September 10, 2013

New UW-based organization aims to prevent suicides

News and Information

Forefront: Innovations in suicide prevention, a new University of Washington-based organization launched Sept. 10, will help Washington state lead the way to new policies and programs to solve what is regarded as a major public health problem.

Forefront brings together suicide prevention experts, clinicians, students and loss survivors to advance big-picture changes in public policy, training and communication about mental health and suicide prevention.  Co-founders Jennifer Stuber, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and Sue Eastgard, suicide prevention clinician, trainer and advocate, are nationally known for their work in mental health and suicide prevention.

“Many suicides are preventable, yet nearly 40,000 people die by suicide each year in the U.S. one death every 14 minutes,” said Eastgard.  Nearly 1,000 people died by suicide in Washington state in 2011, twice as many as died in motor vehicle accidents. One of those people was Stuber’s spouse, Matt Adler, a highly regarded international law attorney and father of their two young children.

Stuber turned her grief into action and spearheaded a series of initiatives, culminating in the formation of Forefront, a non-profit organization committed to taking bold steps for suicide prevention.  “Most people who’ve died by suicide were struggling with mental health problems and didn’t get life-saving help. With Forefront there is hope for ending these needless tragedies,” she said.

Last year Stuber and state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, built a statewide coalition of suicide prevention experts, survivors of those who committed suicide and professionals in many disciplines to enact a suicide prevention training requirement for mental health professionals in Washington state. The “Matt Adler Suicide, Assessment, Treatment and Management Act of 2012″ is the first of its kind in the nation.  Forefront will deliver and evaluate a variety of training programs and maintain an online calendar of training opportunities throughout the state.

Forefront also helped advocate for legislation that improves the capacity of schools to identify and intervene with students who are struggling with emotional issues and suicidal thoughts.  Forefront will help train school counselors and work with administrators to develop crisis plans that include responding to suicidal behavior.

Forefront will continue working with individuals and communities to advocate for improved mental health services and suicide prevention policy. It also will work with community members and journalists to encourage responsible reporting on mental health and suicide and provide individualized support for suicide victims’ survivors through its “Forefront Cares” phone support and resource packages. Its research and evaluation will help establish best practices that can be adopted elsewhere.

Jerry Reed, director of the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center, describes Forefront as a “tremendous contribution to people in Washington state,” and predicts that it will grow into a regional asset. “It has the right people—strong researchers, strong advocates, a strong survivor community, and a policy community that’s quite supportive. That’s what it takes to get things done.”

Reed will deliver the keynote address at the Forefront launch celebration and fundraiser, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Sept. 10, in the Lyceum Room of the Husky Union Building.  Orwall will receive the organization’s inaugural public service award.