NSSF-VA Host Mental Health Roundtable

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Editor’s Note: September is Suicide Prevention Month. NSSF, Walk The Talk America and other organizations have a number of resources available for dealers (and industry professionals) to “have a brave conversation” and be a part of suicide prevention. FMG Publications’ Video Producer Nic Lenze had the opportunity to attend a roundtable on mental health, hosted by NSSF and the VA.

“No one can do everything but everyone can do something.”

Those words were the first of many to leave a lasting impression on a hot morning in Aurora, Colo. They were from Joe Bartozzi, NSSF president and CEO, whose opening remarks addressed a room of 30 people — a roundtable hosted by NSSF and the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), July 27.

Those in attendance were there to have an honest discussion and identify action steps to address mental health and suicide prevention. Representatives from major manufacturers — such as GLOCK, Magpul and Ruger — and industry activists like Chris Cheng, met with doctors, clinical psychologists and local level government officials to find answers. In this changing world, how can we, as an industry and gun owners, all help reduce the 55–65% of firearm deaths that are related to suicide?

Speakers Share Impact

There were several speakers over the course of the one-day event. Each of them delivered powerful statistics, insights, messages and stories of how suicide has affected their lives.

Sarah Joy Albrecht, founder of Hold My Guns — a non-profit that gives those in crisis a place to store firearms during times of crisis, no questions asked — spoke at length about the importance of allowing people in crisis to protect themselves, or a loved one, while preserving individual liberties.

Bill Brassard, NSSF senior director, communications, has done extensive work to prevent firearms deaths through NSSF’s Project ChildSafe program. He keyed in on people’s tendency to avoid the “downer” topic of suicide prevention. Brassard corrected this misnomer, saying: “It’s not a downer message; it’s a message of hope.”

Michael Sodini, founder of Walk the Talk America, joined other speakers in a panel discussion to share his journey and what he believes could help prevent further tragedies.

Dr. Emmy Betz, founder of Firearms Safety Coalition, highlighted the importance of messaging in order to change individual and cultural behaviors. This focus on messaging continued, as attendees broke into two focus groups.

Updating The Message

One focus group concentrated on secure storage and how to make it simple, easy and accessible to those who need it. The other focused on messaging. (Coming from a media background, I gravitated toward the messaging focus group.)

In the messaging focus group, attendees were free to participate at will. Fueled by people who truly care to stop these preventable tragedies, ideas, insights and suggestions filled the whiteboard quicker than the room leader could write. General thoughts on spreading a national message shared the board with specific actionable items aimed at targeting at-risk demographics.

We discussed the importance of language and the words we use when talking about suicide. As the face of the average gun owner continues to change and the community becomes more inclusive, the need for updated language has become apparent. Wrapping suicide into the gun violence statistics incorrectly labels suicide, and can lead to shameful feelings for those who might otherwise seek help.

Doing Our Part

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the day wasn’t about suicide at all. Dr. Matthew Miller, the VA’s national director of suicide prevention, told a story about being at lunch with his daughter. As a fellow patron began to choke on his food, Dr. Miller found himself hoping somebody would step in — instead of getting up to help.

As an industry, we train to be better prepared for tragedy outside of the home, but our interior walls can sometimes be neglected. Instead of waiting for someone else to help, it’s up to us to do our part. While there isn’t one single answer to a problem so complex, steps are being taken to save lives. Suicide is an “everyone” problem, and its prevention requires all of us. As Bartozzi said: we can all “do something.”

The event closed with a impromptu and heartfelt “thank you” from an attendee. He recounted how he used the VA’s resources, as well as a group of fellow veterans, to save a life. The energy in the room was joyous. I returned home to my family feeling hopeful and thankful there are people and resources available that could save those who I love, should they find themselves in crisis.

If your business or organization would like to help, the NSSF has a suicide prevention toolkit that can be requested and will be sent free of charge.

For more info: nssf.org/safety/suicide-prevention/suicide-prevention-toolkit.