Advocacy is an important part of what Defeat Suicide Foundation (DSF) does to try to reduce suicide across the country. Over the past years, DSF has advocated for a number of issues and related bills. For example, DSF is currently working with multiple states and the federal government to change the method in which mental health money is distributed to schools so that it is legally earmarked and cannot be misused toward non-mental health expenses. DSF worked to encourage passage of an anti-bullying bill, passage of a bill creating the Florida Statewide Office of Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Coordinating Council, and passage of an education bill offering suicide prevention training courses for educators on a voluntary basis. These advocacy outcomes were the result of collaboration and efforts with legislative contacts and numerous other agencies, organizations, and citizens.
It is heartbreaking to hear about the number of suicides that continue to occur. Advocacy is an ongoing process and previously passed legislation is not enough. In order to be successful we need your help in your local legislative area and/or in the federal government.
TIP: Advance research and planning is essential to effective lobbying [and advocacy]. Before you begin your advocacy, be sure you are able to:
Define your issue clearly. Can you state the issue in three sentences or less? If not, practice until you can. State the problem as well as the solution. For example, does the solution require a budget appropriation or a change in a current statute?
We can all help!
Start now. Your local legislator is currently preparing for his/her upcoming legislative session. The summer is a good time to make an appointment with your legislator to establish a relationship, share your personal story of loss if you have one, discuss community and state efforts to reduce suicide, and make your request (e.g., support, co-sponsor). Try NOT to wait until next year’s legislative session to meet your legislator for the first time. Legislators should be happy to meet with you because you are a voter.
TIP: When you call for an appointment with your legislator, clearly identify who you are and what organization you represent. Briefly explain the issue you wish to discuss with the legislator. Indicate if others will be coming with you.
What else can I do? - Besides a visit with your representative, you can use a variety of other communication methods. You might choose to telephone, write, e-mail, or fax.
TIP: Never underestimate the power of the written word in gaining legislators’ attention. Your legislators do want and need to hear from you. One well-written and persuasive letter will stand out from the stacks that arrive at the legislator’s desk each day.
Can I meet with more than one Legislator? - Each county has a meeting before the legislative session begins where all the legislators (the area legislative delegation of representatives and senators) listen to requests from local government, schools, and individual citizens. This is also a great place to present to your local legislators about suicide prevention.
TIP: Attend legislative delegation meetings. Try to get on the agenda to educate legislators about issues of concern to your organization and the benefits that your services bring to the community.
Once the legislative session begins, legislators become extremely busy. However, they and their staffs continue to meet with constituents. Below are some additional guidelines that can help when meeting.
Assume you only have about three (3) minutes with each staff or legislator. Make one main point and ask for his/her help. Remember that in congress (during legislative session), legislators are seeing people throughout the day that are addressing multiple topics. Frame your message by giving them a summary of what you want and what you hope they will do to help. If you’re in a group, it is usually best to let one person take the lead and others help answer questions.
TIP: Remember to thank legislators regularly and publicly for their work, their support, and their votes. Few people remember to thank their legislators and they clearly remember those who do.
What should I ask for? - You can make requests regarding issues for which you are passionate. For the current legislative session, DSF has identified an area we think can be strengthened to help reduce youth suicide: required K-12 educator training. Optional suicide prevention training for instructional staff is a nice start. DSF plans to work with the Jason Foundation to require that teachers take their free two-hour online suicide prevention course for educators. If you agree, you could request support for the bill (once a bill is introduced and a bill number is assigned) or ask that your legislator become a co-sponsor.