What personally inspires you and your family in the fight to #StopSuicide?
When our 15-year-old daughter, Nina, died by suicide in September 2016, my wife Dawn and I could have hidden the cause of her death and remained silent. Instead, we chose to bring our story out of the darkness to help others. We are now focused on changing our culture so mental illness is treated with the same care and respect as physical illness. We do this to help others, and to honor Nina and the wonderful 15 years she gave to everyone whose lives she touched.
How have you and your family been involved in suicide prevention advocacy?
I have served on the board of directors of the Washington State Chapter since 2018, and currently lead our chapter’s advocacy efforts. Advocacy is a simple way for us to make a difference by supporting changes to laws (and pushing for new ones) that will bring mental health and suicide prevention into our regular conversations and help save lives. I could see the power of advocacy after attending AFSP’s annual Advocacy Forum in 2019. This year, I led the first-ever State Capitol Week event in Washington state, where we held a virtual kick-off event on State Capitol Day to educate our volunteer advocates on the policies that need support in their state, and give them the opportunity to hear from and speak to local legislators. This was followed throughout the week with Zoom meetings, phone calls, and e-mails to members of the state legislature. AFSP’s National Policy Team, along with the support of other volunteer Field Advocates like myself across the country, were instrumental in passing a bill which will fund 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and our local crisis call centers the same way as the 911 number. This critical piece of legislation was signed by the governor in May.
What does the phrase #MentalHealth4All mean to you?
I hope to see a world where mental health is treated the same as physical health, with science-based treatment options, and educational programs that give children the coping tools they need at that young age, and that they will continue to use throughout their lives. It’s important that we ensure our schools have the training and resources to support this. I also know how powerful it can be to advocate for legislation that addresses the disparity in mental healthcare access for underrepresented communities.
We are focused on honoring Nina’s legacy, and I can’t imagine a better way to do so than to bring suicide prevention out of the darkness.