AFSP’s Suicide Prevention Policy Priorities: Our Agenda for Progress

John Madigan

John Madigan, Vice President of Public Policy
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Reducing the incidence of suicide requires a multi-pronged approach, including scientific research, educating the public, supporting suicide loss and attempt survivors, and advocating for public policies. That’s the premise for our work at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

We’re pleased to share our public policy priorities for the coming year, with the hope that you’ll get involved in one of our chapters in any of the fifty states or participate in our national efforts. Your state and national advocacy is welcome and needed as we seek to make changes that promote suicide prevention and reduce the number of lives lost to suicide. (Sign up here!)

We separate our advocacy into areas in which we will lead, collaborate, explore, and advance public understanding on mission-related issues, both on federal and state levels. Here we focus on the priorities on which we will lead and collaborate.

AFSP plays a leadership role
On these issues, AFSP takes the lead in developing the policy position, marshaling support and generating advocacy activity.

Federal issues
One of the most critical ways of preventing suicide is to ensure that people have access to mental health care. To that end, we value highly the availability of affordable, high quality health insurance that covers mental health and substance use disorders. These issues reflect that priority:

  • Maintain mental health and substance use coverage as an essential health care benefit
  • Preserve and increase Medicaid and Medicare funding
  • Preserve coverage of pre-existing conditions, access to care, preventive health coverage, and no annual or lifetime caps
  • Ensure Mental Health Parity laws and regulations are uniformly implemented.

We are committed to advocating for the suicide prevention services and support that our service men and women need, thus we urge the Congress to

  • Maintain suicide prevention for military personnel and veterans as a national priority.

Our third priority area for federal advocacy reflects the need for current, accurate information as the basis of treatment, training, and advocacy. Our nation’s efforts to collect and analyze data about suicide and suicide prevention are inadequate for us to devise new, effective approaches to address the rates of suicide. We seek to

  • Increase funding for suicide prevention research
  • Expand the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) to all fifty states.

State issues
Our priorities on state issues reflect the broad areas in which states can enhance their suicide prevention efforts, particularly through the schools and government-led suicide prevention initiatives. These include

  • Supporting comprehensive school suicide prevention legislation and policies, to include mandated training for school personnel and mandated policies on suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.
  • Increasing funding for, and assist in, implementation and evaluation of state suicide prevention initiatives and plans to prevent suicide across the lifespan.

We see promise in research involving the brain tissue of people who have died by suicide, so we are working to

  • Assist in the creation of a national brain tissue donor bank and amend existing state laws to include brain tissue within existing organ donation policies and procedures.

And, to further the top federal priority of enhancing mental healthcare access, we aim to

  • Ensure Mental Health Parity laws and regulations are uniformly implemented.

AFSP collaborates with other advocacy organizations
As noted in last week’s post, the U.S. national suicide prevention strategy calls for coordinated efforts involving government agencies, communities, organizations, families, and individuals. AFSP collaborates with others through active participation in coalitions and groups in Washington, D.C., and beyond. Our priorities reflect our roles in this effort.

Federal issues

  • Support the review, reform, and evaluation of mental health standards, policies, and service delivery, as well as programs like Mental Health First Aid
  • Support funding for suicide prevention authorized in the 21st Century Cures Act, including the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act program and a new adult suicide prevention program
  • Utilize our knowledge of the relationship between alcohol/substance use and suicidal behavior to develop innovative suicide prevention policies and programs
  • Promote policies and programs to improve access to mental health care and prevent suicide in correctional facilities
  • Increase funding for crisis intervention centers to expand their infrastructure in order to handle the growing call volume, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • Increase funding for American Indian/Alaskan Native youth suicide prevention and education programs
  • Promote policies to prevent LGBTQ+ suicide, including integrating LGBTQ+ populations into existing data collection tools on suicide mortality and safe schools indicators
  • Support the construction of barriers to prevent suicide from bridges and other jumping sites
  • Authorize and appropriate funds for bullying prevention programs and projects
  • Authorize and appropriate funds for Depression Centers of Excellence.

State issues

  • Support the funding and dissemination of Mental Health First Aid Programs
  • Increase the number of health professionals who receive regular education and training in suicide, assessment, treatment, and management
  • Support bullying prevention legislation, policies, and programs, and promote safe messaging around bullying and suicide
  • Support the construction of barriers to prevent suicide from bridges and other jumping sites
  • Promote policies and programs to improve access to mental health care and prevent suicide in correctional facilities
  • Oppose the use of conversion therapy or sexual orientation change counseling as treatment for LGBTQ+ individuals

As you can see, although we place the strongest focus on a few issues – healthcare access, mental health parity, supporting veterans and military personnel, and developing an evidence base – AFSP has a broad agenda as we strive to advance suicide prevention on a variety of fronts. We invite you to participate and to advance suicide prevention in your everyday life and as a policy advocate.

Learn more about our advocacy and how you can get involved.

Your Turn

  • Which suicide prevention issues do you believe are the most pressing to bring to Congress and state legislatures? Why?
  • How will you participate in advocacy for suicide prevention?

Under John Madigan’s leadership, AFSP’s advocates and public policy team have won major victories in suicide prevention at both federal and state levels. His team has secured mandated suicide prevention training for teachers, school, and healthcare personnel; won landmark funding for mental health services under the Excellence in Mental Health Act; increased funding for the National Violent Death Reporting System; and made military and veteran suicide prevention a national priority through laws like the Clay Hunt Act and Jacob Sexton Act.

In addition, Madigan oversees the Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network, giving nationwide volunteer advocates the tools and training they need to educate their legislators on how smart policy can prevent suicide.

He earned an associate degree in Social Science from Brookdale Community College, a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from The George Washington University, and has completed graduate level course work in communications and political science at American University in Washington, D.C. Madigan is also a survivor of suicide having lost his sister, Nancy Jane Madigan.

About the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states with programs and events nationwide. AFSP celebrates 30 years of service to the suicide prevention movement. Learn more about AFSP in its latest Annual Report, and join the conversation on suicide prevention by following AFSP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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