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Advocating for Change: AFSP’s 2021 State Capitol Day Events

May 25, 2021 – 4 min read

By Chelsey Dumond, AFSP Senior Manager, Public Policy Events and Projects

Chelsey Dumond, AFSP Senior Manager, Public Policy Events and Projects

Each year, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s State Capitol Day events bring volunteer Field Advocates together to meet with and educate state public officials across the country on suicide prevention and mental health policies that can save lives. This signature AFSP policy program has grown from four events nationwide in 2013 to now 51 events in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2021.

At this year’s virtual State Capitol Day events, volunteer Field Advocates learned about important AFSP Public Policy Priorities and  heard from their local chapter board members and public officials about the importance of advocacy and how they can make a difference in the legislative process. During events in Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin, advocates were joined by their state Governor and/or Lieutenant Governor.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said, “I couldn’t be more grateful for your strong support for suicide prevention efforts, your care for survivors of loss, and your continued advocacy to protect life. By lending an ear, extending a hand, and by using your voice to be a voice for people who may not feel like they have one, our efforts could make all the difference for someone in need.”

After hearing from their peers and public officials, advocates were then empowered with the tools to meet virtually with their state legislators to share their personal connection to the cause, and advocate for relevant suicide prevention legislation and policies.

The AFSP Public Policy Office in Washington, D.C. works with AFSP Field Ambassadors and staff in each state to identify priority legislation and policies for each State Capitol Day event. These policy priorities seek to prevent suicide through increased access to mental health services; expanded suicide prevention trainings and resources; programs to grow the mental health workforce; and support for populations and communities most at risk for suicide.

Over the past year, AFSP’s Public Policy Priorities have become more reflective of this particular moment in our history, and address mental health needs now and after the current COVID-19 pandemic. We have also expanded our priorities to reach new communities that have previously been unaddressed or underserved. Over 2,000 volunteer Field Advocates became the voice for these policies as part of the 2021 State Capitol Day Events, speaking out and supporting all those who struggle, those we have lost, and those affected by suicide, mental health, and substance use.

During the 2021 State Capitol Day season, our AFSP advocates made a difference for suicide prevention! In total, our advocates supported 174 pieces of suicide prevention and mental health-related legislation, sent over 2,200 emails to elected officials, met virtually with hundreds of state legislators across the country, and saw 10 of those state bills become law thus far.

At all 51 events, AFSP advocates supported policies to address funding and implementation of the 988 phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK). Our advocates worked alongside other mental health and suicide prevention organizations in this effort, seeing 20 state 988 bills introduced by time of publication and passage of said legislation in Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Utah, Virginia and Washington. We also sought to expand current behavioral health services by supporting legislation related to telehealth to reach rural and underserved communities as part of events in Arkansas, Hawaii, Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

As part of 19 events, AFSP advocates sought to acknowledge and support those in the first responder community by advocating for PTSD workers’ compensation benefits for first responders, corrections officers, and 911 dispatchers, in addition to providing those groups access to peer support programs and mental health training.

We also expanded our advocacy and policy efforts in K- 12 schools and higher education, to ensure students have access to crisis services and supports as they return to an in-person setting. These efforts included advocating at ten State Capitol Day events for legislation to add crisis phone numbers to student ID cards; to expand student mental health services; and to allow for student mental health absences from school.

Our volunteer Field Advocates continued their advocacy for LGBTQ youth through support of legislation to prohibit the practice of conversion therapy at 11 events, as well as advocating for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identify data collection in California and Hawaii.

It is through the work of each one of our volunteer advocates, and their willingness to share their story and educate lawmakers, that we are able to make a difference for those in need and fulfill AFSP’s mission -- to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

“Give voice to your story, share your experience. It is a conversation worth having, because it’s knowledge worth spreading,” said Nevada Lieutenant Governor Kate Marshall during this year’s very first AFSP Nevada State Capitol Day event. “To those today who feel gripped by suicide or despair, please know that you mean more, so much more. Your choice to step out of the shadows and share your story will not only save your life, but it may also be another person’s saving grace.”

AFSP Field Advocates will continue to make a difference for this important cause at the state and federal level now and in the future. Join us on June 7 from 3:00- 5:30pm Eastern over Facebook Live for our 12th Annual AFSP Advocacy Forum and make your voice heard for suicide prevention and mental health. Register here.

Thank you to all those advocates who took part in a State Capitol Day event this year, and a special thank you to our AFSP chapter board members and staff for their leadership in planning and executing each event.

Learn how you can become an AFSP Volunteer Field Advocate.

 Register now for AFSP’s 12th Annual AFSP Advocacy Forum.