- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2007

Every 17 minutes someone commits suicide in the America. Brian Altman wants people to know how suicide can be prevented so it doesn’t happen to anyone they love.

This month, Mr. Altman was named director of public policy and program development at the Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN) in Northwest.

SPAN was created in 1996 as a nonprofit organization for people who lost loved ones to suicide and want to build awareness of mental health.

“Brian is just what we were looking for,” said Jerry Reed, executive director of SPAN. “He has a lot of experience working with Congress and the administration on mental health issues.”

Before he joined SPAN, Mr. Altman was a legislative assistant with the American Counseling Association (ACA), a nonprofit advocacy group based in Alexandria.

“With Brian’s knowledge of public policy and his experience working on the Hill, I think he can build relationships with legislators that will help us get the word out,” Mr. Reed said.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young Americans and the 11th leading cause of death for adults nationwide.

“I first learned about SPAN while I was working for the ACA, and it just seemed like a natural move from one health advocacy position to another,” Mr. Altman said.

“I’ve always been interested in the issue, but it’s often stigmatized so it may not get as much press as the other issues out there,” he said.

Mr. Altman said many people think that seeking help for mental health problems can be seen as a sign of weakness. SPAN hopes to reverse that stigma.

“Our goals aren’t to just increase the minimum wage; they’re a bit more complicated than that,” he said.

Mr. Altman’s role is to promote SPAN’s policy and advocacy efforts in the 110th Congress. He is lobbying for reauthorization of the Garrett Lee Smith Act, the nation’s first youth-suicide prevention law.

The act, named in memory of the late son of Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, grants money to suicide-prevention programs such as SPAN.

“We’re blessed that most people on the Hill want to support suicide prevention,” said Mr. Altman. “However, it’s always difficult to get your goals sustained in the mind of the public and government offices.”

As a nonprofit, SPAN is not permitted to make political contributions, so Mr. Altman says he wants to pursue his group’s agenda on a grass-roots level nationwide to make sure legislators pay attention to the issue of suicide prevention.

Mr. Altman graduated from Duke University in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in public policy, and received a law degree from Georgetown University in 2003. He lives in Arlington.

For more information on suicide and suicide prevention, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800/ 273-TALK or visit the Suicide Prevention Action Network’s Web site at www.spanusa.org.

— Bryce Baschuk

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