AAS Goes to Washington

2017-11-16_14-42-24It’s been 30 years since the American Association of Suicidology last met in our nation’s capital. The average cost of a new house was $91,600, a gallon of gas cost 91 cents, Don’t Worry Be Happy was moving up the music charts and there was not yet a national strategy for suicide prevention. In fact, it would be another decade before Surgeon General David Satcher would name suicide as a serious public health problem. We had not yet begun the first Gulf War; which would lead to a focus of our military on our troops and veterans. It was a different time.

Today, we have a growing national dialogue and energy about doing something differently to impact the tragedy of suicide. We have top government leaders speaking out and a federal committee, led by SAMHSA, that will produce a report to Congress in December of this year highlighting the high risk of suicide for those with serious mental illness. So the time is right for our 51st annual AAS conference to again occur in the shadow of Congress at the Capital Hyatt Thursday, April 19th – Saturday, April 21st, 2018. The theme of the conference is Integrating Science, Experience and Political Will: Informed Action to Prevent Suicide.

We expect that nearly 1,500 delegates from multiple countries will be in attendance and I’m very excited about the way our program is coming together. The conference Program Committee, chaired by LSU Assistant Professor Ray Tucker, has done amazing work by building on your feedback from last year’s post-Phoenix conference survey to include your identified dream speakers and content throughout this year’s conference.

See the AAS Dream Speakers Survey Results

In 2018, you’ll be able to customize your AAS conference experience in stronger ways than ever before. We will have two separate one-hour “Thought Leader” sessions featuring a choice of four top speakers; which you can select based upon the following tracks: (1) Research/Clinical/ Prevention, (2) Crisis, (3) Loss, and (4) Lived Experience.

We will bring back TED-style talks but expand the number of opportunities by including them in afternoon time slots. They will also be themed according to the conference tracks above; empowering our AAS team to prioritize the plenary time on research and policy.

Some sneak peaks for plenary showstoppers include:

  • Matt Nock, David Rudd, John Mann, Thomas Joiner, Craig Bryan, and Peggy Battin are among the scheduled speakers in the Research/Clinical/Prevention track
  • Craig Miller, author of This is What it Feels Like and featured in “The S Word” documentary in the Lived Experience track
  • Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church and best-selling author, determined to be a voice for those living with mental illness after her son Matthew tragically died of suicide in 2014 in the Loss track
  • Margie Balfour has published several articles in her role as VP for Clinical Innovation & Quality at ConnectionsAZ that has contributed to establishing new national standards around crisis intervention in the Crisis track
Plenary showstoppers will include the speakers above and more.

I’ve had the opportunity to see debates among research leaders at the European Symposium for Suicide and Suicidal Behavior (ESSSB) and the National Council for Behavioral Health. Last week’s International Association for Suicide Research (IASR) conference in Nevada included a lively debate on high risk versus population approaches. We plan to include two moderated debates next Spring in DC and we believe these will add a valuable new component to our AAS conference.

We’re also hoping to host an evening screening of the new film by Kevin Hines, “The Ripple Effect,” which intimately relates his own personal journey as well as inspiring recovery stories of others who are translating pain and tragedy into hope and healing to others.

In addition to plenary, 2018 will mark our first Thought Leader breakouts (with superstars focused on four key conference tracks) and an expansion of our TED-Style Talks

Finally, Dr. Jerry Reed from EDC, Inc. is organizing and moderating a panel of public policy leaders. A decade ago, he and DeQuincy Lezine wrote an article, “Political Will: A Bridge Between Public Health Knowledge and Action.” It’s a terrific time for AAS to convene the top research and experience to spark the political will to inform new action to prevent suicide.

We look forward to seeing all of you in Washington DC this April! Stay tuned to http://www.suicidology.org and @AASuicidology for more details.

Update November 18, 2017: James Mazza was AAS President from 2005 until 2007. He wrote me with the following regarding 30 years since being in DC, “This is a bit of misnomer, given AAS was in Bethseda in 1998 and again in 2002. Even the brochures of the 98 and 02 conferences show DC in the pictures.” Personally, my first AAS conference was in 2003 so I missed these earlier visits to the DC area. It does feel emblematic though that we in suicide prevention were on the periphery. Similarly, mental health was out in Rockford, Maryland (SAMHSA) while Health and Human Services was bull’s eye downtown. In April 2018, we’ll literally be in the shadow of Congress at the Capital Hyatt. About time!

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