I recently had an amazing opportunity to attend the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Georgia Chapter Capitol Day on February 19th, 2019. The Georgia chapter of AFSP all organizes a day to speak to Georgia senators and representatives about pressing issues in relation to suicide prevention. State Capitol Day brings volunteers from all over to the state to unite in their passion for prevention.
This year was my very first Capitol Day. As a member of the Junior Board of the GA Chapter, I had heard of Capitol Day before but had never had to opportunity to participate in one. I was excited to participate in an event that would hopefully impact legislation and many Georgia citizens, but I was also terrified to be a part of such an "adult" group. I would be asked to formulate a pitch to leaders of our state in less than five minutes to change their perspective on four different AFSP goals.
Here were the four goals of Capitol Day:
- Make conversion therapy officially illegal. Conversion Therapy is the practice of trying to change one's sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. There is no arguing around the immorality of conversion therapy. It has no scientific basis. Every major medical association AND the American Association of Christian Counselors is against it. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ adolescents are four times more likely to attempt suicide. On top of that, youth exposed to conversion therapy have a suicide attempt rate three times higher than their LGBTQ+ peers.
- Pass the PEACH (Parity Ensures Access to Crucial Healthcare) Act. This Act will hold insurance companies accountable for providing insured Georgians with the behavioral health care to which they are entitled under the state and for which they are paid.
- Listening to Georgia's Children. AFSP wants access to the Georgia Student Health Survey so they can make informed decisions regarding where to allocate resources to ultimately save lives.
- Support suicide prevention in rural communities. The suicide rate is 2x higher in rural communities as it is in urban communites (per 100,000 citizens). AFSP wants to address provider shortages for mental health and promote social connectedness through community engagement activities.
It ended up being a phenomenal experience. I spoke to the aide of Representative Miriam Paris. Rather than attempting to quickly pitch our four goals -- like I thought I would have to -- we ended up having a thoughtful, engaging discussion about issues in our state related to mental health and suicide. (For those of you who are losing hope in the compassion behind the government's closed doors -- don't.)
As our day was coming to a close, and we'd spoken to (or attempted to speak to) everyone on the agenda, someone from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities came to speak to us, and to listen to our stories. She commented on how inspiring it was that we all volunteered to be there that day in the hopes of engendering lasting change. How that as long as there are people that care like we do, the world will always have potential to heal.
And you know what? She's 100% correct. Don't let people label your optimism as naivety or ignorance. Optimism, belief in the possibility of a beautiful outcome, is what drives humanity forward. A cynical outlook doesn't make you smarter, or more realistic, or more "prepared" for what's to come. Believe in your ability to overcome the obstacles in your life. Find joy in the journey.