Dana – Northwestern University

Public Policy Associate

I found AFSP when I was searching for a public policy internship for the summer between my junior and senior year. I was mainly applying to large think tanks and firms, but AFSP caught my attention. My life, like so many, has been affected by suicide and I was excited by the possibility to integrate my studies in American legislative issues and federal policymaking with my passion for suicide prevention.

I am so happy that I ended up accepting an offer from AFSP over other internships in DC, because it has been a fantastic experience. Not only did I get to work in an organization committed to a great cause, but I really enjoyed the smaller atmosphere in the office. But don’t let the small staff list fool you, there is so much work being done in advocacy and public policy at AFSP and interns get to participate in that.

At the beginning of the summer, I was given federal committees and state legislatures to follow. One of my committees was the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and after a public scandal in the Department of Veterans Affairs, the committee was holding hearing after hearing to address the situation. I followed along as the House and the Senate tried to understand the major issues in the VA and create a comprehensive bill. I attended hearings, as well as press conferences and briefings on the subject, and wrote updates for AFSP’s website. This gave me a different perspective on the legislative process than I had gotten from working as a Senate intern previously and I really appreciate that. On the state side, I got to watch as a bullying prevention law AFSP field advocates supported was signed into Illinois law, see a bill promoting suicide prevention programs at colleges form in Ohio, and mobilize AFSP’s Cook County Field Advocates to encourage their representatives to allow a referendum vote for more mental health funding on the 2014 ballot. I also helped plan Indiana’s first State Capital Day, which is a time when Indiana Field Advocates can go to their state capital and speak to assembly members and their staffs about suicide prevention and mental health issues. I did not know much about state legislatures and had always focused on federal policy before this internship, but now I have a better understanding of just how much gets done at the state level.

I was also part of multiple long term research projects. My main focus was on suicides in jails and prisons, but I also did research on suicide prevention training for mental health professionals and updated the firearms project and various state research projects. When John gave a presentation at a conference in Wyoming, I was tasked with organizing preparation materials. I became way more familiar than I ever thought I would be with Wyoming’s Suicide Prevention Plan and their specific state efforts, and communicated with our Wyoming contacts to make sure our information was accurate.

I would definitely recommend this internship to anyone who has an interest in advocacy, public policy, and suicide prevention or mental health issues. Working in DC on the AFSP team has been fantastic and I am so glad they let me be a part of their summer 2014.