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10 Questions with Robert Gebbia, CEO of AFSP

2014-09-24



Walkers Walking (5 of 17)

In the month of September, We-Care.com is paying special tribute to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the leading national nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, and advocacy, as well as through reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide. If you have not yet chosen a cause to support with your shopping, we invite you to consider supporting the AFSP, September’s Cause of the Month!

1. You’ve worked with AFSP for 16 years now, what drew you to AFSP and what has kept you excited all these years?
I first got involved through my background in nonprofit management. Having worked in large charities—like United Way—I felt my experience could benefit a smaller charity that needed to grow. What keeps me excited is the momentum of the movement. Each year, more and more people are speaking out about suicide. During my time at AFSP, we’ve gone from a handful of volunteers to hundreds of thousands of people all over the country.

2. The AFSP expands suicide prevention through scientific research, educational programs, awareness initiatives, advocacy campaigns, and supportive services for people that have lost a loved one to suicide. What are the biggest challenges facing the further expansion of suicide prevention.
Our biggest challenge is funding. Compared to federal funding provided to fight other leading causes of death, suicide gets only a small percentage. The same applies to private support, which also lags behind due to a history of stigma and misinformation. We have a plan for suicide prevention that has proven to be successful in other fields, but we need more resources to carry out the mission.

3. Have you seen public opinions surrounding suicide change over your years working with AFSP.
Yes. Today we have a more knowledgeable public than ever before. Suicide has been a problem for decades, but even fifteen years ago prevention efforts were minimal compared to the scope of the problem. Today, the grassroots movement is nearing a tipping point—like HIV did, like cancer did. That said, we still have ways to go. Being against suicide is not controversial, but too many people are still uncomfortable talking about it. There are still social barriers to help-seeking. We can overcome these challenges, and it’s support from organizations like those of We-Care that will help us change public opinion.

4. If there is one thing you could have everyone in the world know or understand about suicide what would it be?
That suicide can be prevented. Most people don’t even see it as a health issue. Too many people think suicide is a choice, or a cowardly act. It’s not. Nine out of ten people who kill themselves are suffering from a mental illness that has compromised their ability to make rational decisions. If more people get the help they need, we will save lives.

5. How do you think a tragic suicide death of a high profile individual, like Robin Williams, affects suicide prevention?
We were all saddened by Robin Williams’s passing. His death led to an important national conversation about suicide prevention. In the immediate aftermath, calls to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline dramatically increased, as did visits to the AFSP website, and we have to believe that the conversation encouraged others in crisis to seek help. AFSP also worked with the media to promote safe and accurate reporting, and provided them with resources for those who are at risk.

Bob Gebbia
6. Suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. Why do you think suicide is so prevalent in our society?

There are many theories as to why suicide rates have been increasing. One thing we know for sure is that our attitudes toward mental health need to change. Currently only 1 in 5 suffering from a mental health problem seeks help. That’s a big problem. We need to change the world from one where people are embarrassed to seek help for mental health problems, to one where seeking help for mental health problems is the smart thing to do.

7. The AFSP has a goal to reduce the rate of suicide 20% by 2025. How realistic is this figure, and what will it take to reach it?
It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s achievable. Our plan—that encompasses research, education, and advocacy—is in line with recommendations from the World Health Organization. If grassroots funding—like the walks, like funds raised through We-Care—continues to grow, we are confident we will have the resources to accomplish our goal.

8. How has or can public policy affect suicide prevention?
Advocacy is a very important part of our strategy. It helps us promote policies and legislation to advance suicide prevention. For example, we can mandate barriers on bridges, or require suicide prevention training for educators, both of which could make a significant contribution to prevention. We can also support sweeping legislation like the Mental Health Parity Act, which put the insurance coverage of mental health services on par with physical health services. It was a major change, and we’re only beginning to see the impact that legislation will have on making mental health care both accessible and affordable.

9. Suicide is certainly a personal and emotional issue. Could you share a story that has impacted you during your time at AFSP.
What I’ve learned in my time at AFSP, is that most people know someone who died by suicide. In my own experience, I lost a friend to suicide after joining AFSP. Like many survivors, I didn’t see it coming, and was left wondering why he didn’t reach out to me, knowing my involvement in suicide prevention. It was a painful reminder that those in the midst of crisis often find it hard to reach out, and that there is so much more we have left to do to prevent this tragic loss of life.

10. We-Care.com’s platform allows people to turn everyday actions, like shopping online, into meaningful change in the world. What do the donations generated through We-Care.com enable AFSP to do?
Fighting a complex problem like suicide requires a comprehensive strategy with multiple areas of focus, and your support will help us in all of them. Donations will go toward research, awareness and education programs, advocacy, and support for survivors of suicide loss. We’re also currently developing programming for attempt survivors. More and more people with lived experience of being suicidal are speaking out to show that recovery is possible, and to spread the important message that seeking help for mental health problems can save lives.

To create a We-Care.com account in support of AFSP, start here.

Dylan Nord works with nonprofits to maximize fundraising through We-Care.com. Working with partners like the ASPCA, the National Autism Association, Save the Children, and Clean Water Action, Dylan has helped supporters raise over $4.6 million dollars through We-Care.com. Dylan believes that small deeds can add up, that we all have a responsibility to do good, and that technology is creating collaboration that will change the world. Dylan holds a Bachelor of Arts from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.