April 28, 2017 – The evening sky was still bright as my plane landed in Juneau, Alaska on March 11. I had left the East Coast much earlier in the day, and over 17 hours of flying time I had lots of opportunity for reflection on how far the AFSP Public Policy program has come. I was excited to know that our AFSP Alaska chapter was hosting its very first State Capitol Day. AFSP Alaska volunteer leaders like James Biela are the lynchpin to our advocacy efforts across this great nation. The Alaska event was just the tip of the iceberg, though. (If you’ll forgive me some Alaska wordplay.) This year, State Capitol Days were held in 35 states. For 10 states, it was their first-ever event. But in many ways, our public policy efforts culminate each year with the Advocacy Forum.
AFSP’s eighth annual Advocacy Forum is scheduled for June 11 – 14, 2017. Volunteers and staff from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will converge in Washington, D.C. for four days of briefings, and meetings with all 100 U.S. senators, and all 435 House members. The Forum is also fun: a time to network and share stories. For the first time ever, our volunteers and staff will participate in a joint rally with Mental Health America on the east front of the U.S. Capitol Building. Advocates from both organizations will hear from key Senate and House leaders about why access to mental health services and suicide prevention is a public health crisis of the highest sort.
Since most people in our extended AFSP family will not be able to attend the event in person, a feature this year is the “Virtual Forum” option, which will enable all of our volunteers and staff to participate in the event electronically right from their own home. They will even be able to ask questions of speakers in real time. You can sign up on the virtual forum web page to confirm your participation and receive more information as it becomes available.
At the Forum, AFSP advocates will hear why advocacy plays a central role in AFSP’s mission. Notable experts have been invited to speak about the need for increased medical research, especially in suicide prevention. Others will address the need to ensure that access to mental health services and substance use disorder treatment must continue as an essential health benefit in whatever changes are made to our national healthcare delivery system. We will learn how the scourge of opioid use is contributing to a burgeoning rate of suicide: now unfortunately the tenth leading cause of death in the country.
I consider myself a forty-year Advocacy Road Warrior. In Alaska, tears of joy came to my eyes as young volunteers like Bosco Charles and Wilton Charles, cousins, found the courage to share their struggles and concerns around mental health and suicide prevention with their governor, and inspired their elected officials to commit to heightened efforts to make sure all Alaskans have access to mental health services and that efforts are redoubled to prevent suicide. This is just one example of the growing AFSP Field Advocate network we are building across the USA. You, too, can be a part of it.
Please register to join us Monday, June 12, 2017 via our Virtual Advocacy Forum, and tell your federal officials why access to mental health care and suicide prevention matters to you and needs to be a national health priority.
Before flying home, my young Alaskan Native brothers gave me a Yupik tribal name, “Cauyaq,” which means, “Drum.” I like that. I am a drum for suicide prevention advocacy. The same is true for all our AFSP volunteers and staff. We are drums for suicide prevention advocacy.
By the way, reindeer sausage is quite tasty, and so is Alaskan halibut.
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