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Forefront launch pulls suicide prevention out of the shadows

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Date: September 18, 2013
Media Contact: Ashley Wiggin, aaw4@uw.edu, 206-221-2456

The HUB Lyceum was crowded with eager advocates, survivors and friends on September 10, enthusiastically coming together in a standing-room-only event to witness the launch of a new UW non-profit called “Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention.” Keynote speaker Jerry Reed highlighted the need for suicide prevention, following King5 Traffic Anchor and emcee Tracy Taylor, who lost her father and uncle to suicide.  Forefront estimates that attendance topped 300, and attendees walked away with a renewed sense of hope for the future of suicide prevention.

“We were all quite inspired by the passion people showed towards this cause,” said Elaine Walsh, a School of Nursing Associate Professor and affiliate of the center. “It’s a combination of survivors, researchers, clinicians, community members who really came together to create a more comprehensive approach to suicide prevention.”

Forefront affiliatesForefront affiliatesForefront has launched a comprehensive program intended to help remove the stigma associated with suicidal thoughts and mental health concerns which will touch everyone from students in the health professions to members of the media reporting on suicide.  Forefront intends to act as source of information for a wide range of audiences, including mental health professionals, suicide loss survivors and the media.

“Health professionals are increasingly aware of the importance of mental health for a patient’s well-being, and are assessing it on par with physical health,” said Walsh. “People who are struggling with mental health issues are still stigmatized, but we are making progress towards removing that stigma.”

School of Social Work Assistant Professor Jennifer Stuber witnessed the shortcomings of mental health services firsthand when her husband, Matt Adler, died by suicide in 2011 after struggling with depression and other mental health issues. A high-powered Seattle attorney, Adler was seeking care from multiple practitioners at the time of his death. It wasn’t until after his suicide that Stuber understood the real source of the problem: the practitioners didn’t know how to help him and were not trained to respond to his cries for help.

“I learned that the mental health professionals that were treating him knew that he was suicidal, but didn’t take action or behave in a way that could have potentially saved his life,” she said.

Stuber consulted experts and partners from around the UW to understand what types of training are available to those working in mental health and soon discovered that there was a severe lack of training in suicide prevention. Determined to help, Stuber went to work with state representative Tina Orwell and Sue Eastgard, a nationally known suicide prevention advocate and trainer, to pass the Matt Adler Suicide Assessment, Treatment, and Management Training Act of 2012 the first of its kind in the nation, which requires health professionals in Washington State to receive training in suicide assessment, treatment and management. Subsequently, Stuber and Eastgard worked with colleagues from six UW disciplines: nursing, social work, psychiatry, psychology, education and communication to prepare to launch Forefront, with a mission to make big-picture changes to advance suicide prevention. Walsh notes that the center is currently pursuing research funding and hopes to offer training to individuals and programs in the coming years.

“This is a great opportunity for us to come together and explore new ways to learn about and teach suicide prevention,” she said.

While all of the involved disciplines play a key role in suicide prevention, Walsh explains that nursing is uniquely positioned to be on the frontlines of suicide prevention. As a vital piece of the health care team and often the one who asks many personal questions about overall health, nurses often have the opportunity to learn more about the patient in a way other health professions don’t.

“Nurses work in many different settings—including public health, primary care, mental health, hospitals, assisted living, schools, employee health clinics--and we often don’t know who in front of us might be at risk for suicide unless we ask,” she said. “People trust nurses, and nurses are trained to ask questions, listen carefully to responses, and mobilize resources.  Nurses understand the importance of working collaboratively with patients and appropriate significant others. These skills are helpful when working with those who are at risk for suicide.”

Elaine Walsh and Azita EmamiElaine Walsh and Azita EmamiWalsh notes that suicide prevention is already a key piece of the curriculum at the School of Nursing, with mental health curriculum integrated into both undergraduate and graduate-level courses. There are courses where students practice responding to a patient who is at risk for suicide.

“A big piece of the puzzle is just educating people about what resources are available if they are struggling, and showing them you care and offering support,” she said. “That does make a huge difference when it comes to suicide prevention.”

Perception and stigmas surrounding both mental health and suicide are also key components of Forefront, which will also offer training to the media in how to talk about suicide. At the Department of Communication, Sue Lockett John, who previously worked with Stuber in the Coalition to Improve Mental Health Reporting, notes that part of the problem lies in the fact that suicide is stigmatized and people don’t want to talk about it.

“Journalists have learned about the problem of contagion, so they are very cautious, and rightly so, in covering deaths by suicide,” she said. “We will work with them on how to do it sensitively and appropriately, and give them recommendations to do it in ways that doesn’t sensationalize or glamorize suicide.”

If the launch event is any indication of the success Forefront hopes to achieve, the future is certainly bright. The over 300 attendees and generous sponsors raised nearly $75,000 dollars to support the center’s start-up work in training, public policy, media outreach and support for survivors bereaved by suicide.

“With Forefront’s programs, spirit of collaboration, data-driven expertise and passion to challenge the status quo, the key ingredients are in place to help prevent this tragedy from happening to other families,” Stuber said.

Learn more about Forefront at www.intheforefront.org. Check out photos from the event on our Facebook page.

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The University of Washington School of Nursing is consistently a top-rated nursing school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ranked No. 3 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the UW School of Nursing is a national and international leader in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The school addresses society’s most pressing challenges in health care through innovative teaching, award winning research and community service. For more information, visit www.nursing.uw.edu.