Despite Shutdown, APA Advocates for Youth Suicide Prevention

ELC participants urge members of Congress to support youth suicide prevention programs


Amid the nation’s first government shutdown in 17 years, nearly 100 participants of APA’s 2013 Education Leadership Conference (ELC) met with over 150 congressional offices to advocate for the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (GLSMA) Reauthorization of 2013 (S.116/H.R.2734). After taking part in several interactive sessions to strengthen their advocacy skills and enhance their knowledge of the federal legislative process, ELC participants met with members and/or staff of both the House and Senate to discuss the importance of GLSMA programs in addressing youth suicide prevention.

The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2013 (S.116/H.R. 2734)

ELC advocacy sessions began on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 29, 2013, with an overview of the legislative issue by Jennifer Beard Smulson, senior legislative and federal affairs officer of APA’s Education Government Relations Office. First authorized in 2004, and named after the 21-year-old son of former Senator Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who took his own life, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (GLSMA) has supported youth suicide prevention grants in 49 states, 48 tribes or tribal organizations and 138 institutions of higher education. Now for the first time in two Congresses, bipartisan, bicameral legislation reauthorizing the GLSMA has been introduced. The Senate bill (S.116) was introduced on Jan. 23, 2013, by Senators Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and the House bill (H.R. 2734) was introduced on July 18, 2013, by Representatives Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Danny Davis, D-Ill.

The bills (S.116/H.R. 2734) would reauthorize and maintain the GLSMA Youth Suicide Early Intervention and Prevention Strategies Program for States and Tribes, the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Services and Outreach on Campus Program, and the Suicide Prevention Technical Assistance Center. Both pieces of legislation would also make changes to the Campus Suicide Prevention Program that will allow for flexibility in the uses of funds to better meet the diverse, documented and growing needs of students. In general, both bills would allow Campus Suicide Prevention Program funds to allow or provide:

  • Mental health and substance use disorder services to students, including prevention, promotion of mental health, voluntary screening, early intervention, voluntary assessment, treatment and management of mental health and substance abuse disorder issues.
  • Outreach services to notify students about the existence of mental health and substance use disorder services; education for students, families, faculty, staff and communities to increase awareness of mental health and substance use disorders.
  • The hiring of appropriately trained staff including administrative staff.
  • The provision of training to students, faculty and staff to respond effectively to students with mental health and substance use disorders.
  • The creation of a networking infrastructure to link colleges and universities with providers who can treat mental health and substance use disorders.
  • The development, support, evaluation and dissemination of evidence-based and emerging best practices.

Preparing for the Hill: Advocacy for Novices

Advocacy training continued the following morning with an "Advocacy for Novices" session presented by Education Government Relations staff. Alexandra Ginsberg, APA’s education legislative assistant, began the session with the basics of advocacy, including why Americans have the right and obligation to advocate and the importance of advocacy in garnering federal recognition and support for issues and initiatives of importance to psychology. Karen Studwell, JD, associate executive director of APA’s Education Government Relations Office, continued with an overview of the federal legislative and appropriations process, including how a bill becomes a law and a breakdown of the U.S. federal budget. Sheila Forsyth, Education Government Relations Office’s grassroots consultant, discussed the various opportunities for constituents to influence the legislative process, and the most effective ways to communicate a message to policymakers. The session concluded with an interactive role play exercise in which participants practiced meeting with their members of Congress.

2013 Education Advocacy Awards Luncheon

Each year, ELC includes the Annual Education Advocacy Awards Luncheon, which recognizes psychologists and other individuals who are advancing federal support for psychology education and training through their advocacy efforts and activities. This year, Board of Educational Affairs Chair Celiane Rey-Casserly, PhD, and APA President Donald Bersoff, PhD, JD, announced the names of three individuals receiving the 2013 Education Advocacy Distinguished Service Award for their outstanding contributions:

  • 2013 Education Advocacy APA Member-at-Large Distinguished Service Award: Presented to Justin Nash, PhD, professor, family medicine, psychiatry and human behavior, Brown University, for his passionate leadership and tireless efforts to advance psychology education and training through such programs as the Graduate Psychology Education Program; and for his contributions to increasing psychological services to underserved populations on college campuses. His support for grassroots activities at all levels has been invaluable.
  • 2013 Combined APA Member/Grassroots Education Advocacy Distinguished Service Award: Katie Cherry, PhD, professor, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, in recognition of her long-standing grassroots efforts to gain federal support for the Graduate Psychology Education Program and the delivery of integrated services to underserved populations, and for promoting suicide prevention services on college campuses.
  • 2013 Friends of Psychology Award: Presented to Caleb Gilchrist, senior policy advisor to Rep. Davis, for his support of increasing psychological programs to our nation’s youth. This award is one of the few that recognizes the role of the congressional staff member — often the unsung hero in legislative initiatives and efforts; the person who is usually behind the scenes working long hours, formulating strategy, holding meetings, negotiating, providing advice and preparing legislation.

White House Mental Health Initiative: Partnering to Raise Awareness on College Campuses

Following lunch, ELC participants enjoyed a panel presentation regarding a new partnership initiative on college mental health spearheaded by APA in conjunction with American Council on Education (ACE) and the Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education (NASPA). Participants also heard from leaders and innovators in the college mental health community who provided first-hand accounts of the current state of college mental health through the work they are doing at institutions and with the growing service member populations on campus.

To begin, Brian Sponsler, EdD, vice president for research and policy for NASPA, provided an overview of the White House partnership initiative as well as shared the perspective of student affairs administrators on the value and importance of addressing mental health problems. He linked mental health wellness to a student’s ability to be successful in postsecondary study — a foundational concern of leaders in higher education. The director of University of Maryland Counseling Center, Sharon Kirkland-Gordon, PhD, spoke next about the state of college counseling and presented a data-driven portrait of current and emerging concerns. Her comments provided a comprehensive overview of the challenges faced by students and those within the campus community who are seeking to help them. The director of civilian training programs at the Center for Deployment Psychology, Paula Domenici, PhD, talked about the unique experiences and the unique needs of military service members on campus, including veterans and reservists which are increasing in number on campuses around the country. She further reported her work with this population, as well as the professionals that come in contact with them, is helping make campus communities more aware of military suicide risk factors like stressful military life events, easy access to firearms, unexplained mood changes/depression and feelings of isolation. Finally, Louise Douce, PhD, special assistant to student affairs at Ohio State University, provided a summary of the broader discussion by framing the issues around college mental health. She outlined the key goal of the APA, ACE, NASPA collaboration — to develop a concise report reviewing trends in college mental health and promising practices that contribute to student well-being for college and university presidents. She is serving as a principle contributor and advisor to the partnership project on behalf of APA.

The dialogue and discussion paved the way for ELC participants to consider their own campus community and reflect on their personal or professional experiences with students’ mental health needs. Moreover, these panelists helped frame the discussion about suicide prevention on campuses, which contributed to the successful advocacy efforts on behalf of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2013 the following day.

Advocating for Youth Suicide Prevention Programs

Despite the uncertainty brought on by the government shutdown, APA members remained flexible and optimistic as nearly 100 ELC participants, representing 39 states, traveled to Capitol Hill to urge their various members of Congress to co-sponsor the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2013. Ultimately, ELC participants met with nearly 150 congressional offices, including a number of face-to-face meetings with their members of Congress. Since then, an additional 22 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors have been successfully added to S.116 and H.R. 2734. APA’s Education Government Relations Office looks forward to continuing to work with APA members across the nation to advocate for this legislation.

Once again, thank you to everyone who participated in the 2013 ELC Capitol Hill visits.