By Marianne Weaver
Sponsored by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
No one was prepared for living life during a pandemic. Thankfully, organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) are actively working to maintain community connectedness and provide helpful resources as we adjust to some big changes in everyday life.
Ali Walker is board chair for the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Walker said, “The pandemic has been challenging for numerous reasons, including the need for social distancing and working from home, which have been huge transitions in our usual social interactions. Many of us have struggled with a sense of isolation and loneliness, both of which are hard on our mental health. In addition, the pandemic has further impacted healthcare accessibility.”
Established in 1987, AFSP strives to give those affected by suicide a nationwide community empowered by research, education and advocacy to take action against this leading cause of death. AFSP is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health by funding scientific research, educating the public about mental health and suicide prevention, advocating for public policies in mental health and suicide prevention, and supporting survivors of suicide loss and those affected by suicide. Locally, the National Capital Area Chapter (NCAC) organizes Out of the Darkness Community Walks to raise funds and awareness, and also hosts many programs across Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia.
AFSP has developed tools and programs intended specifically to address the unique issues impacting mental health during the pandemic, as well as among minorities.
AFSP has focused on creative ways to promote mental health and stay connected despite the pandemic.
“We offer people a shared community,” said Walker. “Anytime someone is looking to feel more connected or find support, that is the perfect time to come to us.”
The organization has put together a collection of resources, advice and guidance for caring for ourselves and each other during the pandemic. Visit their dedicated webpage, afsp.org/COVID19, to learn more. You can also participate in virtual events to stay connected while still practicing social distancing.
“The advantage to virtual programming is that people don’t have to worry about going out,” she said. “They can log in from the comfort of their own homes and learn the warning signs to look out for in themselves or their friends, what resources are out there, and when to seek support from a professional. It’s also an opportunity to connect with one another even when physically apart. We try to keep things hopeful and lighthearted.”
You can view upcoming local events at afsp.org/NCACevents. This July features a number of free presentations of “Talk Saves Lives” and other educational programs, offered in English and Spanish. Join in for some fun social events too, like an orientation for community walk participants and team captains (July 7 and 11), a DJ-hosted virtual walk kickoff party (July 18), some silly and interactive improv (July 12), and more.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month
“Throughout the year, we try not to lose sight of any demographics,” said Walker. “Minorities often face unique stigma and barriers of access to care. Minority Mental Health Month is an important opportunity for us to use our platform to help elevate voices, to listen and better understand, and to support the unique needs and range of experiences of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.”
On Thursday, July 9, AFSP will host the second virtual town hall meeting “Supporting BIPOC Mental Health: Ways Forward” at 3:00 p.m. This hour-long discussion, moderated by Dr. Christine Moutier, will be held on Facebook Live (@afspnational). For more information, visit afsp.org/MinorityMentalHealth.
The website also features research on suicide-related topics pertaining to different ethnic groups. Topics include as evaluation of community programs intended to reduce suicidal ideation among Latina adolescents and risk factors for suicide in rural Chinese elderly.
“We don’t want any group of people feeling left out or undervalued,” Walker said. “One of the many advantages AFSP offers is a sense of community. We are inclusive of all kinds of people from all walks of life, and while right now we have to interact from a distance, we do not have to be socially isolated.”