September 19, 2017

In a remarkable example of finding common ground to advance social good, the School-led Forefront Suicide Prevention has formed an alliance with the National Rifle Association (NRA), Second Amendment Foundation, and other seemingly unlikely partners to prevent suicide in Washington state.

The Safer Homes, Suicide Aware campaign, which launched on September 10, offers training to health care providers, gun dealers, firearm safety instructors, and pharmacists on how to recognize and respond to warning signs of suicide. It also distributes suicide awareness videos and free locking devices for firearms and medications.

Creative strategies to address suicide, including unconventional alliances and citizen-level intervention, are a signature of Forefront, which joined forces with Facebook in 2015 to launch a set of suicide prevention tools on the world’s largest social media network.

The Safer Homes, Suicide Aware campaign is co-chaired by Associate Professor Jennifer Stuber, who cofounded Forefront, and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation. Supporters and partners include other firearm advocacy groups and retailers as well as health care providers, dentists, pharmacists, and legislators from across the political spectrum.

In a recent Seattle Times op-ed, Stuber and Gottlieb noted that the U.S. suicide rate is at an all-time high but public education can make a difference, as demonstrated by the effectiveness of public health efforts such as widespread CPR training to reduce heart attack deaths.

The suicide rate in Washington state exceeds the national average, at 15.6 per 100,000 people. Firearms are the leading cause of suicide in the state, representing more than half that number.

“No other state has been able to achieve this level of cooperation,” Stuber and Gottlieb wrote in their op-ed. “What is making the difference is something simple yet, often forgotten. Finding common ground in our communities and our politics is possible and essential to solving our nation’s most complex problems.”

Since its founding just five years ago, Forefront has been building capacity for suicide prevention and mental health awareness in 19 schools, responding to the traumatic loss of suicide death through its Forefront Cares peer-to-peer support program, and bringing together volunteers with experiences of suicide loss and suicide attempts to build a statewide grassroots advocacy and education effort.

Forefront has also provided data and direction leading to a series of high-profile legislative successes in Washington state. The resulting bills are serving as models for other states and for countries around the globe. They include:

  • First-in-the-nation bills requiring that every mental health and health care professional receive suicide prevention training (which Forefront, UW Psychiatry, and UW’s CoMotion collaboration innovation hub are now developing to meet the new demand for training).
  • A bill focusing on access to lethal means and ensuring training for health care professionals on military-specific issues related to suicide. (Read more about House Bill 1424.)
  • A bill laying the groundwork for a comprehensive, systems-based approach to suicide prevention in schools. (Read more about House Bill 1336)

More information about the partnership behind the Safer Homes, Suicide Aware campaign is available on the UW website.