Since 2009, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Public Policy Council has regularly convened to make recommendations on federal, state, and local policy issues for our organization, chapters and volunteers to prioritize. The Council is comprised of AFSP National Board members, chapter leaders, behavioral health professionals, and researchers in suicide prevention.
In June of 2021, the Council welcomed three new council members: Alex Byrd Spencer (Sacramento, CA); Corbin Standley (Lansing, MI); and Jennifer Butler (Columbia, SC). Each have served on Chapter Boards, organized walks and other events, and shared their personal connections to the cause as field advocates on key suicide prevention and mental health legislation. Through interviews with AFSP staff, they have shared their thoughts on what it means to be an advocate for suicide prevention and mental health.
Alex Byrd Spencer, MPPA
Policy Chair, Greater Sacramento Chapter; Member, California Public Policy Council
After her partner attempted suicide while they were in college, Alex became motivated to advocate for improved access to crisis care and mental health services. Since 2015, Alex has volunteered with AFSP and utilized her skills of strategic planning and policy implementation to advocate for mental health. This work included successfully advocating for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to be included on the ID cards of K-12 and college students in California in 2019. Alex has served as a speaker, organizer, Chapter Board member, Public Policy Chair, and California Public Policy Committee member.
What do you feel is the most important part of being an advocate for suicide prevention?
- Being a voice for people who are struggling and encouraging them to use their voice, and for those who aren’t sure how to ask for help. I want to make sure that the voices of those who need support are being heard, and that people are getting the care they need. Making this be an open conversation, making sure that people are being represented.
What does a #RealConvo about suicide prevention and mental health look like to you?
- It’s about getting rid of as much of that stigma as possible. One conversation can legitimately save a life and get someone the help that they need. You don’t have to be perfect when you’re having a real conversation with someone about mental health. You don’t have to be a medical professional. We’re all a part of the mental health system. Just let people in your life know that they can be heard.
Corbin J. Standley, MA, PhD candidate
Chair of Board of Directors, Michigan Chapter
Corbin first became involved with AFSP in 2012 after attending the Salt Lake City Out of the Darkness Walk in memory of his brother. Corbin has dedicated his career to turning data and evidence into action to create change. As a researcher in community psychology, he has presented at over three dozen national and international conferences. In his time with AFSP, Corbin has worked with state and federal legislators to draft policy, provide testimony, and support passage of legislation. In 2020, he was appointed to Michigan’s State Suicide Prevention Commission.
There are so many ways to get involved with suicide prevention. What is it about advocacy that spoke to you?
- I come from a personal and professional place as a loss survivor and researcher. Seeing data matched to personal stories lead to change is inspiring. I’ve seen it change hearts and minds in the halls of Congress and our state legislatures. When that leads to a new law passing, it is incredibly rewarding and humbling.
What is the most important part of being an advocate for suicide prevention?
- I think the most important part is sharing your story. It’s those stories from constituents, of loss and hope, that make that change. Personal connection is such a powerful tool in advocacy. Those personal connections, those stories we tell are invaluable in policy.
Jennifer Butler, LISW-CP/S
Chapter President, South Carolina Chapter
As a social worker, Jennifer has spent decades connecting with members of her community living with chronic mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. Since joining her first Out of the Darkness Walk in 2005, Jennifer has been a chapter board member, the Chair of the Speaker’s Bureau and Nominations Committee, a Field Ambassador, and Chapter President. In 2019, Jennifer was named Director of the Office of Suicide Prevention for the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, enabling her to work on reducing suicide across the state.
What have you learned about suicide prevention advocacy during your time with AFSP?
- There is lots to love about AFSP. Advocacy is one of my favorite parts. At first, I didn’t really know how well I could do advocacy or how to even begin. AFSP has taught me how to share my story, and how to help other people share their story. AFSP will teach you how to advocate, and how to talk to lawmakers.
What advice would you give to a new suicide prevention advocate?
- Being an advocate, we have to embed hope in everything, in all of our communication. We want anyone who hears our voice to feel hope. This work can feel heavy, especially when talking about data and lives lost. It can feel sad, and it can feel like, “I don’t know how to fix this.” So, it’s important for new advocates to keep hope.
AFSP looks forward to the experience and expertise that Alex, Corbin, and Jennifer will bring to the AFSP Public Policy Council. In their new roles, these councilmembers will support AFSP in its mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.
Learn more about the policy areas that AFSP works on and sign up as a volunteer Field Advocate by visiting afsp.org/advocacy.