Edmonds residents Scot and Leah Simpson call it Involvement Therapy. In the 23 years, almost to the day (Sept. 19, 1992) since they lost their son Trevor to suicide, they have dedicated time and treasure to helping spare other families from similar pain. They’ve served on commissions, worked on statewide plans, and funded awards for school-based suicide prevention efforts. Most recently, Scot became a charter member of the advisory board for Forefront: Innovations in suicide prevention, which officially launches today —World Suicide Prevention Day — at the University of Washington.
“Suicide prevention awareness has gained through the years, but it is still very much in the dark,” Scot Simpson said. He looks forward to helping Forefront “ bring it to light so we can save more lives.”
Forefront 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,” said 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 Stuber’s spouse, Matt Adler, a highly regarded international law attorney and father of their two young children.
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 said.
Last year Stuber and State Rep. Tina Orwall of the 33rd 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 (SPRC), 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 delivered the keynote address at the Forefront launch celebration and fundraiser Tuesday where Orwall received the organization’s inaugural public service award. Scot and Leah Simpson were there, sharing in Forefront’s promise to help Washington State lead the way to new policies and programs that will solve this major public health problem.
For more information on Forefront and its launch event, visit: www.intheforefront.org.
— Story courtesy of Sue Lockett John, University of Washington