History of the Alabama Suicide Prevention Task Force
Dr. David Satcher, a native of Anniston, Alabama, was appointed as the 16th United States Surgeon General (1998-2002) as well as serving as Assistant Secretary of Health (1998-2001). He served in both the Clinton and the George H. Bush administrations. Among his prodigious works, he established suicide prevention as a national imperative and promoted a “call to action” in 1999 to reduce deaths and injury resulting from suicide attempts.
Dollie Hambrick, Director of Social Work with the Alabama Department of Public Health, attended a SPAN conference in Atlanta. Toolkits were secured on state plan development.
Dr. Williamson and former Department of Mental Health Commissioner, Kathy Sawyer, agreed to co-sign a letter inviting community agency members to take part in plan development Alabama.
The first Suicide Prevention Planning Meeting was held at the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). Twenty-seven people, from both public and private agencies as well as survivors and the faith-based community, were invited.
The group was asked to commit six months to develop a plan for Alabama. The group agreed to the request and worked in three subgroups to develop the plan. At the end of the time period, a plan was ready to be edited and sent to the printers. They voted to continue to meet monthly to develop items noted in the Plan.
A visit was made to the Atmore Poarch Creek Indian Reservation to discuss the Plan and see their support. The Nation then asked to be included on the email list and provided support and included in meetings when possible.
The members of the task force recruited support (funding, materials, copies etc.) from their agencies and organizations including development of a webpage at the ADPH website.
A program was held at the State Capitol to share the State Plan. Dr. David Satcher was on hand, along with a large group of task force members, survivors and other friends of the task force gathered to support the event.
At the regional meeting in New Orleans, 10 people from Alabama along with people from Region 4 and 6 gathered with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officer’s staff, SAMSHA and other groups to encouraged growth and support initiatives.
The Governor’s Proclamation Ceremony commemorating National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, the first full week after Labor Day week, was held.
The ASPTF received $25,000 for a statewide billboard campaign. Each of the major cities in Alabama had three to four billboards of two different sizes. This included Birmingham and possibly Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery areas.
The $25,000 was provided by the Alabama Dept of Youth Services. The billboards were designed by the ADPH graphics department. They also worked with the Department of MH & MR for the best deal and locations. The billboards were located in rural and urban areas across the state.
Additionally, the Task Force developed a logo and three sets of a three-sided exhibit board about the Task Force and suicide prevalence in Alabama was used frequently within the three regions of the state.
A Garrett Lee Smith Application Committee was developed to apply for a prevention grant under the Garrett Lee Smith suicide prevention program funded through SAMSHA.
Task Force developments: the Alabama Suicide Prevention Call Centers and the State Plan were presented to the Alabama Council for Community Mental Health Boards.
ADPH provided funds to Alabama Crisis Call Centers to develop advertisements to recruit volunteers and describe services.
The Task Force used $15,000 of ADPH funds for this project. The three (certified) Crisis Call Centers (Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville) received the money to recruit and train volunteers for their call lines. It was also used for suicide prevention program public relations . Technical assistance was received from the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) through consultation with April Naturale.
The task force partnered with the Alabama Department of Mental Health (DMH-MR) to bring Dr. Paul Quinnett of the Question-Persuade-Refer (QPR) Suicide Prevention Model to Alabama. Satellite training was provided across the country and in Canada targeting suicide prevention in adults and youth. Dr. Quinnett also presented training on suicide risk assessment to staff of Greil Psychiatric Hospital.
The task force partnered with the Crisis Center of Birmingham to hire a part-time, one-year Task Force Suicide Prevention Coordinator through local grant funding from The Community Foundation of Birmingham.
Task force chairmanship was split shared between ADPH (Alabama Department of Health) and Health DMH-MR (AL Department of Mental Health Services).
End of year efforts were focused on developing a grant application to the Garrett Lee Smith (SAMHSA) program. A $1.5 million grant application was submitted by the Task Force in 2008.
The Task Force recommended language for the Teen Suicide and Violence Prevention Act in the state legislature and was presented by its sponsors to both the Alabama House of Representatives and the Senate for enactment.
In 2008 national, state and local resources were used to develop: Radio and TV spots; Billboards; and the Speaker’s Bureau. The Task Force also developed an informal speaker's bureau. Many members of the Task Force received calls and went into schools, conferences, community agencies sometimes when a suicide had occurred and sometimes in a more preventative way. Members have all become more expert as the years go on and designed a general curriculum for the speakers to use, but now there is greater confidence and customized response to each request.
The Suicide Prevention Action Network USA (SPAN USA) came to Alabama and, in July, facilitated a two-day coalition building curriculum (Strategic Planning for Suicide Prevention) to maximum enrollment allowance representing agencies, task force members, university counselors and professors, employees, hospital / psychiatry representatives, high school counselors, veterans administration, child death review professionals, survivors, and more.
A Pilot Grant application was submitted to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to train counselors as Bereavement Resource Representative in all counties of the state, while monitoring the well-being of suicide survivors for research. It was not funded.
The Task Force attracted 13 more members as participants, including a SPAN USA Field Representative, other survivors, counselor educator and therapist, social workers from public health, and more.
The Task Force continued to lend support to the AFSP-sponsored third annual Out of the Darkness Walk with staffing, materials, publicity, and collaboration. This support was echoed with National Survivors Day in November.
During National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, Governor Bob Riley signed a Proclamation in support of all efforts to reduce the suicide rate in Alabama. The newly revised state suicide prevention plan was unveiled during this week. Friends and allies of suicide prevention gathered to witness this proclamation.
The Task Force applied for $1.53 million in grants through SAMSHA for a comprehensive, pilot prevention program in Jefferson County. The SAMHSA grant primarily focused on gatekeeper training, bereavement services, development of rapid response teams to assist persons identified as suicidal, programs for survivors (relatives and friends of suicide victims), and public awareness. Funding was also requested to develop a state Resource Directory specifically designed for suicide prevention. The application was not funded but the overall reaction to the proposal was positive and a revised application will be prepared for submission.
The Task Force moved towards a more evolved organizational status with the development of by-laws and officers, thus moving from “task force” status upon which it was initiated to a council status to be determined in future meetings. Accordingly, the ASPTF name was changed to the Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resource Center (ASPARC).
The meetings of the Task Force included many guest speakers and visitors, including Dr. Donald Marks on his research into medication effects and suicide, Dr. Connie Kohler and her grant funded “Body Love Project” which is a continuing radio drama featuring a suicide story line and call in questions with experts, representatives from Equality Alabama, and a legal consultant on starting 501c3 non-profit organizations.
ASPARC members focused on fulfilling paperwork requirements to request 501-C3 status for ASPARC. This will enable ASPARC to elicit donations and solicit grants independently. In May, attending member of the ASPTF elected officers and board members. In addition, ASPARC team members updated the state prevention plan and revised the Garrett Lee Smith grant application in anticipation of a request for new proposals.
All preparations for the 501c3 application were completed and the document, was submitted for final approval. ASPARC was approved as an officially recognized 501c3 in late August.
An application for Garrett Lee Smith funding was submitted in February, 2011, in the hopes that funding would create opportunities for a large public awareness campaign about suicide prevention, develop stronger protective factors by working with faith-oriented organizations, develop and provide an extensive “Red Folder Project” resource directory, and more. The grant was developed by the Alabama Department of Public Health in collaboration with ASPARC. In September, the Task Force learned that it was not among the recipients, with most of the funding awarded to tribal nations and renewing states.
The Annual Meeting was a success with 65 persons in attendance. In addition to a short business meeting, a young survivor of suicidal depression gave her story, along with two dynamic panels of people who addressed the role of the church as a protective factor and the myriad of mental health systems who collaborate in service of prevention efforts ranging from emergency rooms, law enforcement, probate court, school systems, etc. The mood was energetic and stimulating. Over a third of the attendees joined or renewed membership in ASPARC.
Meetings are currently held every month, with each third meeting (quarterly) being an “all-member” meeting. Any ASPARC members are welcome to attend any or all meetings, and while the board currently meets every month to attend to business, quarterly meetings will be designed for all members to participate in committees and initiatives.
Using national, state and local resources the following have been developed: Radio and TV spots. Billboards and Speaker’s Bureau Manual is under development. ASPARC is considering a cooperative program with QPR to train gatekeepers/first responders on a trial basis.
The Coalition continues to attract new members and decisions are processed in a voting/consensus style according to bylaws.