Social work efforts aim to prevent suicide deaths

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

Social worker Chris Gilchrist is passionate about raising awareness and lifting the stigma surrounding depression and suicide.

She organizes the Out of the Darkness Community Walk in her hometown in Hampton Roads, Va.

The annual event, which offers awareness, support, remembrance and education for those affected by depression and suicide, has grown to be one of the largest in the U.S., she said. There are about 300 walks across the nation each year.

While suicide can be a confusing and heart-wrenching topic for those affected by it, there are facts that need greater understanding, said Gilchrist, who is a member of the American Association of Suicidology and a therapist working with individuals and families with bereavement or other life issues.

“Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death,” she said. “The primary cause is untreated depression. Depression is a disease that is treatable.”

Gilchrist has been organizing the community walk, now in its ninth year, with the support of the Hampton Roads Survivor Support Group, in partnership with the national American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“Every walk has a sad part, but also an uplifting part with hope that we can make a difference,” she said. “If the No. 1 cause of suicide is depression, the walks make a difference by educating people about the symptoms of depression.”

A prioritized research agenda

While Gilchrist is an example of the many social workers who work to raise awareness and understanding of depression and suicide in their communities, social workers in federal agencies are part of a network striving to reduce the nation’s suicide rate on a macro level.

Suicide may appear to be a private problem, but it is a public concern that has inspired a newly designed approach initiated by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

Started in 2010 as a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, the Action Alliance works to explore opportunities for and barriers to progress in reducing suicide rates.

More can be found at

From the April 2014 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.


  1. Suicide prevention training is one of the most popular workshops featured at NASW Florida Chapter’s annual Social Work Conference. It is my hope the other respective NASW Chapters will also offer this training to their members.

    I agree with NASW-Tennessee’s decision not to support regulations requiring this training. More regulation does not lead to better clinical practice, just more red-tape and out-of-pocket expense for individual clinicians. Licensure regulation and oversight should fulfill this need.

  2. When is NASW going to start strongly encouraging ALL social workers to have suicide prevention training? Many, if not most, social worker are employed in environments where there in the potential for the clients to have suicidal thoughts and behavior, YET there is no requirement that any social worker get training in suicide prevention by education or licensure, except in Washington State and Kentucky. And the NASW Code of Ethics state in 1.04 that social workers will only practice in areas where they have adequate training and experience. Does NASW really want it membership to follow its code of ethics? In Tennessee NASW TN opposed requiring social workers to have this training and did not have an alternative solution to helping its membership meet the requirements of 1.04.

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