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Recent Washington, DC Visit
Last week I was able to travel to our nation’s capital and attend the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Executive Committee meeting. The connections I made and the information gathered through the meetings was incredible, but most of all it provided a strong reminder of the importance of the work we are doing. It also served as a reminder for how much is already being done in the Omaha metropolitan area and areas we have for growth in the suicide prevention realm.
To be surrounded by national leaders who are focused on suicide prevention in both the private and public arenas was a unique opportunity. It was interesting to hear how different both sides had to approach it, but also refreshing to know both the government and public sectors, as well as the private sector, are focused on lowering the suicide rates in our country and saving lives. While the approaches may vary, the ultimate goal is shared.
I learned that a lot of research had been done and the group has decided to align their goal with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) goal: to lower the suicide rate by 20 percent over the next 10 years, which they implemented last year. It makes sense for two of the nation’s largest suicide prevention bodies to be working toward the same goal to facilitate change. Learn more about AFSP’s initial Project 2025 here. In terms of the National Action Alliance, more information will be released as to how they will work to promote change and do their part in moving the country toward reaching this goal.
Some may look at this goal and say you can’t minimize the impact of suicide to a number. There are lives lost, loved ones who will never be with us again, and families who will never be the same. Those are the stories we need to be telling. Those are the people we need to be working for, and we are as is the group. The number just gives them a measurable outcome to achieve, it does not in any way, overshadow the importance of the thousands of lives impacted by suicide.
The people around the table included individuals from the Department of Defense, SAMHSA, VA, Bureau of Indian Affairs, NIMH, the Department of Justice, Union Pacific, the Moyer Foundation, the Department of Interior, AFSP, HHS, several large faith communities like Saddleback Church, Kaiser Permanente, Universal Health Services, the Entertainment Industries Council, United for Equality in Sports & Entertainment, Reingold, EDC, Inc., Mental Health Association, Odyssey House, and many more. There were also partners from the NFL, National Council for Behavioral Health, the Center for Disease Control, CARF, and several others. To think of the influence these organizations possess and the movement we could make nationally in preventing suicides and saving lives is unreal. We just need to make sure everyone is at the table, moving toward the same goal, and implementing changes that prove to be successful.
Some powerful insight and reminders that I jotted down as people spoke were:
- To simply postpone an attempt shouldn’t be a goal for someone who is having suicidal ideation; saving their life is.
- Everyone needs to be at the table from the gun community, to construction companies, farm industries, service providers, survivors, and advocates. Everyone has a part to play.
- We owe it to those touched by suicide to be brave!
- Be careful that when focusing on the numbers of suicides, you aren’t normalizing the behavior or act.
- Hotlines are a critical piece to saving lives. We have to keep funding and prioritizing these!
- Look at similar public health problems and the models we used to overcome them – i.e. HIV/AIDS.
- ALWAYS focus on reasons to live. Let’s focus on resiliency and community connectedness.
- Depending on what data you look at, we lose 20 or 22 military to suicide each day. No matter which data is accurate, one a day is too many!
- Let’s not recreate the wheel. Look at existing models and enhance what is being done.
- We are at a “tipping point” in society where the time is now to move forward with suicide prevention efforts.
- One state last year appropriated $1,000,000 toward suicide prevention, with $600,000 of that going to fund the hotline. What can we do legislatively to ensure success in saving lives?
- How can you be a force multiplier?!
- Talking more about promoting life, not preventing death.
- We have to get to the point where everyone is asking, “What happened to you, not what is wrong with you?”
- Love this language, “Tell me where you hurt, and tell me how I can help.”
These are just a few of the things I noted out of the discussion that hit home. These are the tidbits that I pulled out of six pages of notes I took. One person pointed out that I was taking notes feverishly, and I joked that it was my old law school days coming out. In reality, the meetings were jam-packed with information that was too good not to collect, and it was a great experience. None of these key points are earth shattering or things we haven’t all thought of or heard over the last few years, but they serve as a necessary reminder that we must keep moving forward together to achieve these.
I believe we have great momentum in the Omaha area around suicide prevention, as well as throughout the state of Nebraska. Whether it be active suicide prevention coalitions that have all of the necessary voices at the table, successful LOSS teams that are up and running throughout the state, a major public awareness campaign in the Region 6 area, http://www.13minutes.org/, the collection of accurate, timely data to target prevention messages and efforts, and an amazing survivor community who is willing to tell their stories to save others – we are doing some incredible work! I’m confident that we can serve an important role as modeled activity on the national scale, as well as being able to learn from them and implement promising practices and evidence based strategies from groups like the National Action Alliance – ultimately saving lives of those in our community, and significantly reducing the number of suicides we are experiencing.
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia Hebenstreit is the Executive Director of The Kim Foundation. She received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.