Sunday, September 26, 2010

In the Aftermath of a Bronco's suicide: A Town Hall of Hope

During the month of September, the news about suicide has bounced back and forth between good news and bad. First, we heard the concerning news about an increase in suicide rates in Colorado to the highest we have seen in decades. Then we honored our loved ones lost to suicide during World Suicide Prevention Day and celebrated the launch of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Last week, suicide made the headlines again. This time, suicide has stolen one of our Colorado stars, a young NFL player for the Denver Broncos, Kenny McKinley. The Denver Post has done a remarkable job covering this story with compassion and honesty -- in particular, Woody Paige, a columnist for the Post wrote eloquently about his response to McKinley's death and how he understood this experience, for he had been suicidal himself.

Photo by Zoetnet Photo

On Friday, the local news had reason again to pay attention. This time, it was because 75 leaders in the community converged for a Town Hall of Hope at the Carson J Spencer Foundation headquarters in Genesee. Elected officials, hospital administrators, funeral home staff, school personnel, and even a leadership business class came together to hear suicide prevention experts share information on the critical state of suicide in Colorado and offer solutions for change. Some of the recommended strategies for change include:
  • Better data collection on suicidal behavior -- thoughts, attempts, and response to suicide bereavement in particular
  • Better research on programs and treatment -- we must get a better sense out what is working and why
  • More screening for depression and other mental illnesses -- we need to catch people earlier on the progression of these life threatening diseases
  • More advocacy for public policy changes -- to increase funding for our Office of Suicide Prevention and mental health services around the state
  • More training in our schools, workplaces, faith communities, and other systems to help more people learn how to identify risk factors and warning signs and know what to do to get people help.
  • Better social marketing campaigns that help change the culture around suicide and mental health
  • Better support services for those bereaved by suicide
  • And finally...more town hall meetings to help educate the leaders of our communities and convince them that enough is enough -- it is time to cultivate a tipping point of change!
Everyone can play a role in suicide prevention -- what is your role?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Feeling the Power of a Historical Moment and World Solidarity in Suicide Prevention

Photo by Alaskan Dude
Last week I found myself in an internet cafĂ© near the Duomo in Florence, Italy weeping as I watched the press conference of the launch of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention ("Action Alliance")steaming live on my computer. It was September 10th – World Suicide Prevention Day, and I was in Italy after just presenting at the European Symposium on Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour. As I sat there watching President Obama’s cabinet members – Secretary Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Gates of the Department of Defense – speak so passionately about the critical need for suicide prevention in our country, I could not help but feel I was watching a turning point in our field unfold.

Suicide prevention is a relatively new field. In the United States focused efforts in research, advocacy and clinical developments began as recently as the 1960s. We move forward slowly in small pockets around the country, often fueled by the dedication of a handful of committed people. For decades the suicide prevention field has suffered from a lack of funding for and coordination of these efforts, and these barriers have hampered our progress. Last week, when we launched the Action Alliance, the field now has hope that things will be different.

The Action Alliance is a public-private partnership whose mission it is to advance the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (NSSP) by championing suicide prevention as a national priority, catalyzing efforts to implement high priority objectives of the NSSP, and cultivating the resources needed to sustain progress. On September 10th the 41 members of Action Alliance’s Executive Committee (“EXCOM”) came to the National Press Club to hear the Secretaries and others acknowledge the historical launch on World Suicide Prevention Day. (Click here for full video coverage of the press event).

Following the press event the EXCOM convened for their orientation to the work that lies ahead. Each of them will select objectives from the NSSP and find ways to leverage resources and political will at the highest levels to achieve these broad goals. With this strategy, all boats rise.

These Executive Committee members were selected because they are top leaders from the key governmental agencies -- like the Center for Disease Control, the Army and Veteran’s Affairs, the National Institute for Mental Health and more, and the from the private sector including major philanthropists, business leaders, faith leaders, researchers, and advocates. These are the people who make things happen. As I watched it all unfold on the other side of the world, I could not help but be in awe of the potential for what lies ahead. I am so honored to be playing a role in this effort.

This launch event came on the heels of another awe-inspiring experience – the European Symposium for Suicide and Suicidal Behavior had been held in Rome, Italy the previous week. I presented five times on issues like men and suicide, positioning suicide as a social justice issue, suicide prevention in the workplace, suicide and spirituality, and the Action Alliance. I love attending these international forums – there is something so humbling about the world coming together to solve this very tragic human problem. Through linguistic and cultural differences, we work together to learn from each other and find opportunities to collaborate.

Photo from NASA Goddard Photo and Video

And the world came together again on September 10th for commemorate World Suicide Prevention Day. Not only was this the launch day of the Action Alliance, but it was also the day when hundreds of countries participated in activities and awareness-raising efforts that acknowledged the impact of suicide and promoted efforts to prevent it. Because I was abroad as this was all happening, I could not help but feel the interconnectedness of our efforts and the intimacy of our planet. Together, we are better, and we have a chance at figuring this out. Our call to action?: “Take 5 to save lives.” Everyone can reach out to help. Join the movement.

What did you do on World Suicide Prevention Day?