For every person who dies by suicide, at least another six are directly impacted — survivors who must cope with a type of loss that can be particularly disabling.
The nearly 1,300 suicides in Washington in 2017 — including 255 veterans and 87 people under age 19 —left behind some 7,700 survivors in one year. The numbers underscore a public health emergency, but one that suicide-prevention advocates and experts, including those at the University of Washington’s Forefront, say is in many cases is preventable. And it takes a community to do it.
Community impact and public health solutions are the focus of the Forefront Suicide Prevention Education Day, to be held March 6 at the Washington Capitol in Olympia. Along with more than two dozen partner organizations, Forefront the lead organization, based at the UW School of Social Work, will present a series of speakers and events aimed at raising awareness, providing training and pushing for change.
“The Governor’s budget and the suicide prevention bills proposed this session represent a historic first as Washington’s first major public investment into suicide prevention,” said Forefront co-founder Jennifer Stuber, a UW associate professor of social work. “And it couldn’t come soon enough as we deal with the fall-out of a culture that is generally speaking, not good for our mental health. We’re here representing a large group of organizations, no longer a silent majority, raising awareness of this problem in society and focusing on solutions.”
On that day, as they’ve done in past years, Forefront volunteers will place mock headstones on the capitol lawn, one for each person who took their own life in 2017. This year, volunteers will mark the stones of veterans with yellow ribbons, and of young people with backpacks. “The display is meant to be compelling and educational,” Stuber said. “These are some of the populations that need focused help.
The Education Day program includes a ceremony dedicated to lost loved ones as well as to individuals with lived experience and allies; a training for those who work with veterans, and another in recognizing the signs of suicide and appropriate ways to respond; and, as part of Forefront’s Safer Homes, Suicide Aware campaign, locking devices for safe storage of medication and firearms. The UW Police Department will be on hand to provide safe medication disposal, alongside representatives from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs and from Hilinski’s Hope, a foundation established by the family of former Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski.
All activities are free and open to the public. Registration is requested, which will be held at the Woman’s Club of Olympia. Sign up here.
Since its inception in 2013, Forefront has successfully informed suicide-prevention legislation each year in Olympia — including the first state law in the nation requiring suicide prevention training for all health and behavioral health providers.
With the 2019 legislative session newly underway, Forefront is focused on the items in the Governor’s budget and two other anticipated bills related to suicide prevention and workforce preparedness.
The first proposed bill, aimed at K-12 schools, would build on a law passed in 2013 that required school nurses, counselors and social workers to receive training in suicidal behaviors and for school districts to adopt a response plan for students exhibiting emotional distress. This year’s bill, sponsored by State Representative Tina Orwall, D – Des Moines, would fund a broader reach for suicide prevention training and interventions and establishes reporting requirements for school staff pertaining to students at risk of suicide.
A second bill would extend the geographic reach of Forefront’s Safer Homes initiative, launched in 2017. While a mix of public and private funds have supported Forefront’s visits to gun shows, community organizations and other sites in Western Washington, this year’s proposal, also sponsored by Orwall, requests a public allocation to fund a greater focus on veterans, workplace and Eastern Washington residents.
“We have been working on the issue of suicide prevention for the past six years,” Orwall said. “It’s gratifying to see such a strong effort to fund this work this session.”
Gov. Jay Inslee has included support for suicide prevention in his budget proposal, including funding to expand crisis line services, hiring an additional staff member at the Washington State Health Care Authority to help improve health care quality and outcomes (an initiative established by the Legislature known as the Bree Collaborative), and funding for mental health navigators for each of the state’s nine educational service districts.
Forefront’s Education Day sponsors include The Boeing Company, RI International, Hilinski’s Hope and participating organizations such as NAMI Washington, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Washington Arms Collectors.