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Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, with 45,979 deaths in 2020. This is about one death every 11 minutes. The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. In 2020, an estimated 12.2 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million planned a suicide attempt and 1.2 million attempted suicide.¹

These numbers are disheartening. The good news is mental health is better understood today than ever before and there is less of a negative stigma. In addition, the suicide prevention movement is gaining strength and those affected are speaking out and getting involved.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is the leading national non-profit organization dedicated to suicide prevention – with a mission of saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. In 1987, AFSP was started by a group of loss survivors and currently funds over $13 million per year in research, education and advocacy. Driven by science; AFSP is the largest private funder of suicide research. The National AFSP is a national organization with local chapters in every state, plus Puerto Rico. The North Dakota Chapter was chartered more than 15 years ago and is actively delivering programs throughout the state.

We recently had the opportunity to visit with Barb Hanson, RN, Board Chair, and Samantha Christopherson, Dakotas Area Director, for the North Dakota AFSP chapter.

Barb Hanson“We work to find fund research to improve interventions, train clinicians and advocate for policy change. We identify better ways to reach those who suffer and encourage schools, communities and work places to make mental health a priority. We bring people that have been affected by suicide out of the darkness and give them opportunities to help others,” shared Hanson (pictured to the left).

Christopherson added, “We are a voluntary health organization and we cannot do this alone. There is more collaboration and consensus on what we do now more than ever. We are successfully changing attitudes about suicide and mental health. It is so important that we are working together and collaborating. There are so many opportunities and ways to get involved and show your support.”

The North Dakota AFSP has several opportunities to learn, raise awareness, get involved and serve as an advocate. A few are highlighted below.

  • Through funding through the North Dakota Behavioral Health, SafeSide training is being offered to primary care clinics in the state. This is part of AFSP’s National Project 2025 Initiative to reduce the annual suicide rate by 20% by 2025. The SafeSide trainings are designed to enhance the comfort level in conducting suicide assessment tests, the funding allows for 15-20 clinics to participate; with an estimated 500 clinicians at no cost to the participants. This funded program includes continuing education credits for doctors and nurses. The course is three hours total. They are looking for leaders to get these trainings started. If interested in participating, reach out to Barb or Samantha.

Samantha ChristophersonChristopherson added, “The SafeSide trainings can be a supplement to what you may already be doing in your organization. View this training as another tool in your toolbox.” (Christopherson pictured to the right)

  • Soul Shop workshops were held this Spring, which offered suicide prevention training and resources for those in the faith-based community.
  • Out of the Darkness walks bring people together across the country while raising awareness and money to fund research and prevention education. In North Dakota, nine walks are scheduled across the state. Learn more at American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – North Dakota or  AFSP North Dakota Walks.
  • International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is the Saturday before Thanksgiving – this day brings people together who have lost someone to suicide and offers them hope and healing. Learn more at and find a celebration in your community.
  • The AFSP ND Chapter also has a number of community programs that the chapter can deliver to schools, churches, businesses and other organizations in your community. Thanks to the Out of the Darkness Walks, there is not a fee for these community programs.

“I have walked alongside those with mental health issues and hopelessness and despair and supported those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Mental health and suicide affects everyone; including individuals, our work, our communities, our schools and our long-term care communities. That is what brought me to serve on this board. We each have a role to play,” shared Hanson.

AFSP logoAFSP leaders met with members of Congress this month to encourage awareness and support around mental health; the current focus is the 988 suicide helpline roll-out. To learn more about the free prevention and education efforts, visit the North Dakota AFSP Web site. There are programs and tools for individuals at all stages of life, including students, adults and the elderly.

Demand more for mental health. Raise your voice!


  1. CDC Facts about Suicide –