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” (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, www.adph.org.
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.
Garrett Lee Smith Application Committee was developed
Task Force developments, the Alabama Suicide Prevention Call Centers and the State Plan was 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.
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 Quinnet 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. Quinnet 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 Task Force Suicide Prevention Coordinator through local grant funds.
Task force chairmanship was split between ADPH and Health DMH-MR.
The task force recommended language for the Teen Suicide and Violence Prevention Act and was presented by its sponsors to both the Alabama House of Representatives and the Senate for enactment.
The Task Force applied for $1.53 million in grants through SAMSHA and AFSP. The SAMHSA grant, not funded in 2008, would have primarily focused on gatekeeper training, bereavement services and development to survivors, and public awareness while also developing a state Resource Directory specifically designed for suicide prevention. The AFSP Pilot Grant was not funded, but if funded, would attempt to develop a trained counselor into a Bereavement Resource Representative in all counties of the state, while monitoring the well-being of suicide survivors for research.
The Suicide Prevention Action Network USA (SPAN USA) came to Alabama and in July, facilitated a two day coalition building 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.
The Task Force attracted thirteen more members to its composition including a SPAN USA Field Representative, other survivors, counselor educator and therapist, social workers from public health, and more.
Our group continued to lend support to the AFSP-sponsored third annual Out of the Darkness Walk with staffing, materials, publicity, and collaboration. This support will be echoed with the National Survivors Day in November.
During National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, Governor Bob Riely 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 moves toward a more evolved organizational status with the development of by-law and officers, thus moving from "task force" status upon which it was initiated to a council status to be determined in future meetings.
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 continuing radio drama featuring a suicide story line and call in questions with experts, representatives from Equality Alabama, and a legal consultant on starting 503c3 non-profit organizations.
Task Force Key Points
Meetings currently held once every two months, alternating between Montgomery and Birmingham with morning and afternoon meetings.
Using national, state and local resources the following have been developed:
Radio and TV spots
A Speaker’s Bureau
A Manual - currently in the works
The Task Forces continues to attract new members and decisions are processed in a voting/consensus style. Everyone has a say, and members vote with equal opportunity.