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The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s 2023 Chapter Leadership Conference: Now More Than Ever

21 Feb 2023 — 5 min read

By Janice Hurtado Aeppli – Senior Vice President for Chapter Operations at AFSP

AFSP's Indiana Chapter winning the Richard B. Kirchhoff award.

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In Seattle, January 27-29, 2023, nearly 400 volunteers and staff gathered together at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s 18th Annual Chapter Leadership Conference. As a long-time staff member, I had been to all but the very first of these leadership conferences, which had been held just a few months before I started in 2006; but this year’s conference felt like the very first time again. Maybe because the level of passion I encountered with every interaction was something I had never experienced before.

It was the first time I was attending in my new role as Senior Vice President of Field Management, and I was excited! Participants represented all 74 local AFSP chapters across the country and Puerto Rico. Some had been with AFSP as long as me, while for others, it was their first experience at the conference. I knew it would be a special experience for them.

The energy at the conference was electrifying as people came together for presentations, breakout sessions, and other opportunities to deepen their knowledge of AFSP’s current initiatives and the latest developments in suicide prevention. People were excited to learn, excited to share ideas, and excited to take information back to their local communities.

Mike Lamma, AFSP’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, kicked off the conference with chapter roll call; and Lisa Riley, AFSP National Board Member and Chair of the Chapter Leadership Council, inspired us with powerful words of connection. She also introduced the members of the Chapter Leadership Council: leaders from across the country who work to set chapter priorities throughout the year and who had helped organize the event. Tim Krivanek, chair of the Washington Chapter, the conference’s host chapter, welcomed us to Seattle with some lighthearted jokes about the state.

The conference theme, Now, More Than Ever, was fitting because according to a recently released public perception poll, 94% of adults in the U.S. see suicide as a preventable public health issue and 83% are interested in learning how to help someone who may be suicidal.                                                                                                                  

So Now, More Than Ever, our chapters need to be equipped to educate, engage, and activate local community leaders in our fight to prevent suicide. AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia, in his Leadership Message, spoke to the continued need for making suicide prevention a priority. While suicide mortality increased in 2021, the opportunity to save lives has never been greater, with hopeful signs of decreasing stigma around mental health; grassroots efforts driving political action; greater attention in schools, workplaces, and healthcare; and improved, safer reporting on suicide in the media. Scientific research has revealed ways that we can prevent suicide, and an informed public wants to help. AFSP is a leader and catalyst for change, comprised of researchers, educators and advocates – and with our chapters at the forefront, AFSP is engaging more people than ever before. By working together, we can save lives by staying focused, measuring impact, and taking what’s working to scale.

A few highlights from the three-day event included:

AFSP Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Moutier spoke to the importance of collaboration, measurement, and growth for AFSP’s programs, highlighting the importance of facilitating strategic partnerships, prioritizing diversity and equity, and communicating and operating with transparency.

Attendees learned more about our Veterans suicide prevention initiatives and our partnership with Deloitte to reduce Veterans’ suicide risk, with a particular focus on women, rural, and Native American/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian Veterans.

AFSP’s research priority of cultivating culturally relevant suicide prevention research was also highlighted. Researchers shared their findings regarding suicide prevention efforts in the Native, Hispanic, and Black Communities. Beyond the priority of diversity, AFSP has invested $8.2 million this year in new research overall (including 34 new studies), and a total of $71 million since its inception.

Our Public Policy Office unveiled the four overarching pillars that will guide AFSP’s public policy and advocacy priorities for the next biennium:

  1. Research, Surveillance, Data Collection, and Infrastructure
  2. Access to Care and Services
  3. Diverse, Underserved, and Disproportionately Impacted Communities and Populations
  4. Project 2025, AFSP’s first-of-its-kind initiative to save the most lives in the shortest amount of time

Attendees learned about the latest updates to the popular Seize the Awkward campaign, in partnership with The Jed Foundation and the Ad Council. The campaign encourages young adults to become friends who can listen – because starting a conversation about mental health does not need to be uncomfortable.

We also heard about AFSP’s continued partnership with multi-platform audio content and entertainment company Audacy, which has helped AFSP take mental health conversations nationwide. 

The final night of the event, we celebrated the past year’s successes at an Awards Dinner. The Indiana Chapter received the Richard B. Kirchhoff Overall Chapter of the Year Award, showing excellence in areas including prevention and education, advocacy, research, Project 2025, and fundraising. Recent successes for the chapter include a significant increase in followers and reach on social media, and an initiative that provided over 600 funeral homes across the state with resources for suicide loss survivors. A special award was given to Helen Pridgen, on the occasion of her retirement from her role as Vice President of Chapter Programs after two decades of involvement with AFSP: having served at the chapter level, leading programs and advocacy initiatives at the state level, and being an instrumental leader in the start of an AFSP chapter in South Carolina. Her legacy cannot be underestimated. The Awards Dinner also notably featured the first award presented for Chapter Diversity Equity and Inclusion efforts, which went to the Alaska, Michigan, and Maryland chapters for their extraordinary efforts.

Beyond the awards and agenda items, my favorite aspect of this year’s Chapter Leadership Conference were the connections made and the stories shared by those who are so instrumental in making a difference in their communities. So many of our volunteers have a deeply personal reason for getting involved and making a difference in the lives of others. It’s so important that we come together in this way each year, acknowledging the strides we’ve made and the work that still must be done. We can only do it together, and that feeling comes across in our Chapter Leadership Conference. These are the bonds that make our chapter network stronger; that make our organization stronger.

A huge thank you to the volunteers and staff who participated this year. A huge thank you for sharing your stories and sharing your lives with us!

Connection makes a difference

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