March 1, 2017

On Feb. 16, more than 100 people converged in Olympia for Suicide Prevention Education Day. It was the third year in a row that Forefront—a School of Social Work suicide prevention group—sponsored the event to raise awareness and legislative momentum to reduce the number of deaths by suicide in Washington state. Constituents from 48 districts fanned out across the Capitol campus to meet with legislators. For the second year in a row, the Suicide-Safer Homes Memorial’s color-coded headstones represented the toll of suicide loss in this state—1,129 deaths in 2015. Every year, the numbers change—but never the mission. Co-sponsored by the Washington Department of Veteran Affairs and Crisis Clinic, Education Day began at the Women’s Club of Olympia. A luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion and Ceremony of Remembrance and Hope featured speakers sharing stories of loss, hope and survival.

“Tons of bills go through Olympia every day. Legislators need to become aware of these bills going through their committee,” said Forefront faculty director and co-founder Jennifer Stuber at an advocacy orientation that morning. “Many of your legislators may also have been impacted by suicide. Encourage them to tell their story too.” Over 1,000 bills have already been introduced into the Legislature in this session.

Thus it is critical to get suicide prevention-related measures on top of lawmakers’ minds: HB 1379 (comprehensive suicide prevention initiatives in higher education), HB 1612  (creating a public-private fund to continue the work of the Suicide-Safer Homes Task Force), and HB 1047  (a drug take-back bill). All except HB 1379 have been scheduled for a public hearing at the House Appropriations Committee this week.

These bills need to clear an extra hurdle this year: The Legislature is grappling with the McCleary ruling to increase funding for basic public education by the year 2018. This has led Forefront and its allies to seek ways of doing the work with less state funding.

For suicide prevention champion Rep. Tina Orwall (MSW '91), who represent the 33rd district, and lawmakers such as Rep. Brian Blake (19th district), backing these bills is a no-brainer. Other legislative champions are becoming increasingly vocal: “[Suicide] has become a top issue for me,” said Senator Steve O’Ban (28th District), speaking at the ceremony. “This is a bigger issue than many legislators want to admit.”