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Sunday, September 24, 2017

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As you may recall, our family lost our talented, brilliant, giving son, Eric Eliezer Levenson, to suicide on February 4, 2016.

I first became aware of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in the month following Eric’s death, as I saw advertisements on buses and trains. My family has participated in AFSP support groups for families and, this past September, sponsored Team Eric at the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, with over 120 walkers for Team Eric.

In memory of Eric, I joined the AFSP advocacy 2017 forum to make a difference and prevent suicide. AFSP advocates convened in Washington for their annual four-day advocacy forum, and on Tuesday met with legislators to stress the importance of continued support for mental-health care, as well as continued research in mental health care. The advocates were primarily victims of suicide, which is the way we refer to ourselves, those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Over 200 “victims” from across the country, from all 50 states, attended.

The statistics shared with us during the workshops were staggering. Tragically and regrettably, one American dies by suicide every 11.89 minutes. More than 44,000 Americans die by suicide each year. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. Americans attempt suicide an estimated 1.2 million times annually. Veterans comprise 18 percent of suicides. In 2015, firearms were the most common method of death by suicide, accounting for nearly half (49.8 percent) of all suicide deaths. And, most importantly, 90 percent of those who die by suicide had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.

Research has actually been able to figure out the cost of suicide—a staggering $51 billion—which is the combined medical and work-loss costs. A single suicide costs an estimated $1 million in medical costs and lost productivity.

AFSP has been around for 30 years. It was started as a grassroots organization by a few families who had lost their loved ones to suicide, who were determined to provide comfort and services to other families, further research in suicide prevention and educate the public about suicide prevention.

This year, we were pushing for the following themes:

keep funding mental health research

don’t cut mental health services, particularly in the Medicaid program

help de-stigmatize mental illness

continue funding for veterans suffering with PTSD and other mental health-related issues

continue to fund, at the present rate, the national suicide hotline, which has been proven to clearly save lives

What we found is that, across both sides of the House and Senate, representatives support the efforts of AFSP and are committed to furthering the goals of the delegations. It is hoped that with this bipartisan commitment, this important organization will continue its progress.

Eta Levenson

West Orange