As people around the world observe Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 10, the official launch of Forefront: Innovations in suicide prevention brings hope for Washington State to lead the way to new policies and programs to solve this major public health problem.
Forefront – based at the University of Washington – brings together suicide prevention experts, clinicians, students and loss survivors to advance big-picture changes in public policy, training, and communication about mental health and suicide prevention. Co-founders Jennifer Stuber, an assistant professor in the UW School of Social Work, and Sue Eastgard, suicide prevention clinician, trainer and advocate, are nationally known for their work in mental health and suicide prevention.
"Many suicides are preventable, yet nearly 40,000 people die by suicide each year in the US – one death every 14 minutes," says Eastgard. Nearly 1,000 people died by suicide in Washington State in 2011, twice as many who died in motor vehicle accidents. One of those people was Dr. Stuber's spouse, Matt Adler, a highly regarded international law attorney and father of their two young children.
Dr. Stuber turned her grief into action and spearheaded a series of initiatives, culminating in the formation of Forefront, a 501(c)(3) organization committed to taking bold steps for suicide prevention. "Most people who've died by suicide were struggling with mental health problems and didn't get life-saving help. With Forefront there is hope for ending these needless tragedies," she says.
Last year Dr. Stuber and Rep. Tina Orwall (D-33rd legislative district) built a statewide coalition of suicide prevention experts, survivors of suicide loss, and professionals in many disciplines to enact a suicide prevention training requirement for mental health professionals in Washington State. The Matt Adler Suicide, Assessment, Treatment and Management Act of 2012 (ESHB 2366) is the first of its kind in the nation. Forefront will deliver and evaluate a variety of training programs and maintain an online calendar of training opportunities throughout the state.
This year Forefront helped advocate for the passage of another important piece of legislation, which improves the capacity of schools to identify and intervene with students who are struggling with emotional issues and suicidal thoughts. Forefront will help train school counselors and work with administrators to develop school crisis plans that include responding to suicidal behavior.
Forefront will continue empowering individuals and communities to advocate for improved mental health services and suicide prevention policy. It also will work with community members and journalists to encourage responsible reporting on mental health and suicide, and provide individualized support for individuals bereaved by suicide through its "Forefront Cares" phone support and resource packages. Continuous research and evaluation will help establish best practices that can be adopted elsewhere.
Jerry Reed, director of the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center, describes Forefront as a "tremendous contribution to people in Washington State, and predicts that it will grow into a regional asset. "It has the right people—strong researchers, strong advocates, a strong survivor community, and a policy community that's quite supportive. That's what it takes to get things done."
Reed will deliver the keynote address at the Forefront launch celebration and fundraiser, 5:30-7:30, Sept. 10, in the Lyceum Room of the Husky Union Building at the University of Washington. Orwall will receive the organization's inaugural public service award.
For more information on Forefront and its launch event, visit: www.intheforefront.org