Advocates to discuss suicide prevention at Capitol in Charleston

CHARLESTON — Advocates from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will be at the state Capitol today to distribute information on suicide prevention and mental health awareness.

Several people from the Parkersburg area will be making the trip to the Capitol, said local resident Michelle Toman, chair and co-founder of the West Virginia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The Senate and House of Delegates are expected to pass resolutions in support of suicide prevention efforts and mental health awareness before the legislative sessions begin today. A display of 362 pairs of shoes representing the lives lost to suicide will be set up on the steps of the Capitol, Toman said.

In 2016, the most recent year available for statistics, 362 lives were lost to suicide in West Virginia, Toman said. This does not include others who have died from opioid usage but were not counted in these statistics because it was unsure their deaths were intentional, she said.

West Virginia ranks 11th highest in the nation for deaths by suicide, according to AFSP, and the numbers are rising. The number of suicide deaths in West Virginia in 2015 was 349 and the number in 2014 was 340, Toman said.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in West Virginia.

This is the second year the state chapter of AFSP has visited the Capitol to raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health issues and the fourth year Toman has participated in the effort.

The AFSP has a goal of reducing the number of suicides by 20 percent by the year 2025 and to have a world without suicide.

Information on suicide prevention and related topics will be left with all legislators at the Capitol, Toman said.

Lawmakers will be encouraged to support legislation that would protect youth in West Virginia from conversion therapy (SB 613/HB 4435), grow the mental health workforce, and improve insurance coverage parity for mental health and substance use conditions, according to a press release.

“Those of us that serve the AFSP West Virginia Chapter, do so as volunteers. At our State Capitol Day, we share the most important stories of all — our own. We are here to reinforce the message that suicide is preventable; there is hope and help available. Our elected officials need to hear firsthand about the devastating personal, financial and emotional toll suicide plays. Nearly 400 lives in our state last year were lost to suicide, more than one every day; we need to make sure that doesn’t ever happen again,” Toman said in a press release.

In West Virginia, over half of the children and adults who are experiencing mental health issues are not receiving treatment; statewide, there are over 900 West Virginia residents per available mental health provider, acccording to AFSP.

Assessment and treatment for mental health conditions can save lives, but only if individuals at risk can access and afford said care, the AFSP said. AFSP advocates will be urging state legislators to introduce legislation which would incentivize mental health professionals to practice in the state, particularly in underserved areas, and ensure that those providers are equipped with the knowledge and skills to assess, treat, and manage suicidal behavior.

West Virginians with mental health and substance use conditions are facing barriers in accessing mental health care and coverage, AFSP said, including lack of insurance or adequate insurance, lack of available treatment providers or treatment types, and insufficient finances to cover out-of-pocket costs.

To learn more about AFSP’s advocacy efforts, visit


To Seek Help with Suicide Prevention

* Call 1-800-273-8255

* Text crisis line: 741741

* Go to