The stories that bring us here are just as important as what we have been called to do. I first heard of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention through my involvement with the nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). I was thrilled to discover an additional way to get involved in movements that seek to bring an end to suicide, the most preventable form of death. As I finished my second year of undergrad, I knew it was time to reach out and get involved.
I joined the public policy team at AFSP also with the interest of getting exposure to another sector of public health that I was unfamiliar with beforehand. Having taken an epidemiology course, I was curious to learn more about public policy’s role in public health. Additionally, after two years of peer outreach through campus programming for my TWLOHA chapter at Amherst, I was going to be exposed to a completely different approach to addressing mental health and suicide at AFSP.
Arriving in D.C., I enjoyed the summer weather that mimicked the weather of my hometown in Mississippi, but initially felt put off by the fast-paced city life that did not bring the same warmth in hospitality. With time, I appreciated these two different worlds being forged together. Prior to this summer term, I also had repulsion to politics, which is a ubiquitous aspect to engaging bureaucracies to solve social issues. This was especially a concern for me because through my activism for mental health, I have always recognized it as a people issue and not a political issue. Through my experience with AFSP, however, I have gained a hands-on experience with the dynamics around using government to address a public health issue and I am very grateful for that.
Through working with the public policy team at AFSP, I had plenty of exposure to interacting with survivors of suicide lost—a very welcomed experience that was new to me. I really liked the variety of work that needed to be done so there was the opportunity to get exposed to AFSP coalition work in D.C., helping to host the annual advocacy conference, field advocate recruiting efforts, briefings at the U.S. Capitol, and several other areas. This assured me that I was getting a well-rounded summer experience with the organization.
Working in D.C. brought along with it a new lifestyle and a change of pace to everyday life. John’s assistance with providing me with cooking utensils was certainly helpful as I adjusted to living here. The Summer Housing Program at GWU does not provide any programming opportunities in order for interns living there to get to know each other. With this in mind, it was great to be able to meet students from my school in the area, create new friendships with my fellow AFSP interns, and on occasion spend time with the entire AFSP public policy team outside of the office.
My summer with AFSP was a very grateful learning opportunity and as John said, "[We can] go back to school knowing that [we] helped to save lives."