Typically held in-person each June in Washington, D.C., the Annual Advocacy Forum is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s signature public policy event. The Forum provides volunteer Field Advocates the opportunity to learn about AFSP’s public policy priorities and meet with members of Congress to share their personal stories and connection to suicide, and encourage their representatives to prioritize mental health and suicide prevention legislation.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to hold the Advocacy Forum in Washington, D.C. this year. In lieu of being able hold the event in-person, on June 22 volunteer Field Advocates, members of Congress, and AFSP staff from across the country gathered together virtually for the 2020 Advocacy Forum.
Though we could not meet in the nation’s capital this year, we are happy to announce that we were able to connect with over 1,300 volunteer Field Advocates virtually, joining together for an inspiring afternoon highlighting all of the efforts to make suicide prevention the public policy priority it should be.
During the event, advocates were educated on three policy initiatives for the federal government that can save lives: an increase in federal funding for suicide prevention research; designation of 988 as the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; and a prioritization of suicide prevention for Veterans, Service members, and their families.
Speakers for the Advocacy Forum included U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and U.S. Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA), who spoke about their work on the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which seeks to improve funding for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as well as designating 988 as the three-digit number for the lifeline.
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, from the President’s PREVENTS Task Force, spoke about the imperative to combat Veteran suicide. Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, AFSP’s Vice President of Research, joined us to discuss the crucial need for funding on suicide research, emphasizing that the more we understand about suicide, the better we can develop prevention initiatives which can save lives.
Finally, AFSP was honored to have U.S. Representative Susan Wild (D-PA) join the event to provide advocates with her personal connection and perspective on suicide prevention and mental health. As a suicide loss survivor, Representative Wild spoke about the need for changes in public policy and the overall understanding of mental health challenges, to help reduce stigma and show it is a sign of strength to seek help.
We are thankful to all of the speakers who helped to make this unique event a success, and to the over one thousand volunteer Field Advocates who tuned in, many of whom took further action by contacting their members of Congress post-event, through the AFSP Action Center.
Our volunteer advocates truly helped to raise the volume of our collective voice, and they carry our mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide nationwide.