by Noah Whitaker
Noah J. Whitaker is the coordinator of the Tulare & Kings Counties Suicide Prevention Task Force, and the Community Outreach Manager for the Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency. He writes a monthly column for KRL on mental health and suicide prevention.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. More than forty-four thousand people die by suicide annually. Each death leaves behind survivors of suicide loss, including partners, family, friends, co-workers, schoolmates, and others. Often, these survivors are in need of resources such as support groups, counseling, and opportunities to take action. In many areas these supports are not available. This creates an opportunity for survivors to turn their experiences into advocacy and help bring resources into their community and/or join existing efforts.
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” – Haruki Murakami
Funding for national efforts is scarce and local funding is non-existent in most areas. This highlights the importance of grassroots advocacy. There are national organizations that exist to increase policies and funding, advance the scientific understanding of suicide, and build supports for the impacted by the issue. These organizations typically rely to an extent upon local-level efforts to help raise funds to create change. Getting involved with one or more of these groups helps to both strengthen local as well as national efforts.
Locating a local group or organization can sometimes be challenging. Starting at the websites of the national organizations is a great way to find local chapters, or educate you about how to start one. Some areas have peer-driven groups, usually survivors of suicide loss, who form local chapters of a national organization. Many groups tend to be small and lack resources, but are passionate about raising awareness. Some groups are well organized, have a larger structure, and have access to supportive funding. In rare circumstances, civic leaders have joined with community organizations and advocacy groups to develop more coordinated prevention efforts.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
If resources do not exist in your area, create them. It can be time consuming, challenging, and amazingly rewarding to transform negative experiences into positive change. Advocates are always needed to help increase knowledge of mental health issues, support those impacted by loss, foster hope for at-risk groups such as children in social services, loss survivors, and those contemplating or attempting suicide. You are needed, so get involved!
To help clear some of the brambles from your path, I have organized simple information about five national organizations. Please visit the site for each organization to learn about the programs and services they offer, search for local chapters, and join a chapter or start one. You can make a difference and be an important part of helping others.
Five Suicide Prevention Advocacy Organizations
1. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP – www.afsp.org) is a national organization that for the last 30 years has focused on funding scientific research, developing publication education, advocating for public policies in mental health and suicide prevention, and supporting survivors of suicide loss and that affected by suicide. Local chapters coordinate an annual “Out of the Darkness” Walk, which helps to raise awareness, build a community of peers, and raise funds to support their efforts.
2. Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS – www.taps.org) has offered compassionate care to all those grieving the death of a loved one serving in our Armed Forces for more than twenty years. This organization provides access to numerous peer supports, grief recovery services, and events.
3. The American Association of Suicidology (AAS – www.suicidology.org) is the leading organization focusing on promoting the understanding and prevention of suicide and support those who have been affected by it. They do this through advancing the science of suicidology and the sharing of these advancements, encouraging strategies to reduce suicide, compile accurate information, promote research and training, and help direct policy decisions. The AAS hosts an annual conference with hundreds of breakout sessions filled with amazing information. Immediately following the conference, AAS partners with AFSP and TAPS to offer a conference for survivors of suicide loss.
4. American Veterans (AMVETS – www.amvets.org) is the nation’s oldest and largest veterans service organizations, which focuses on enhancing and safeguarding the entitlements for all American Veterans who have served honorably and to improve the quality of life for them, their families, and the communities where they live through leadership, advocacy, and services. One of the major initiatives of this organization is veteran suicide prevention.
5. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI – www.nami.org) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. They operate through hundreds of local affiliates. This organization focuses on educating, advocating, listening, and leading efforts to reduce stigma, educate communities, enhance mental health services, and help families with a loved one who has a mental illness.
If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-8255.
If you would like to learn more about the SPTF, refer to the contact information below.
For Non-Crises Information Related to the SPTF:
Suicide Prevention Task Force
C/O Noah Whitaker
5957 S. Mooney Blvd.
Visalia, CA 93277
Coordinator’s Email: sptf@tularehhsa[dot]org
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.