NOTEWORTHY
PREVENTION'S LEGISLATIVE PIONEER

A public Senate hearing is a unlikely venue to hear a deeply moving story of loss, especially when a seasoned politician takes the microphone. Yet during a Senate Aging Committee meeting in 1996, Sen. Harry Reid did just that by revealing that his father completed suicide in 1972. Since then, the Nev. senator has become a chief proponent of suicide public policy, introducing groundbreaking legislation that spurred the 2001 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. "He gave the nation the permission to speak about suicide by sharing his story," said Jerry Reed, former legislative assistant to Reid and now executive director of SPAN USA, a suicide prevention advocacy group. "His legislation led to the first coordinated effort among states, municipalities and local governments to address suicide as a preventable public health problem and lift its veil of secrecy." Reid also championed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, legislation named for Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith's son who completed suicide in Sept. 2003. The legislation provides federal funding for states, tribes and colleges to combat youth suicide and includes provisions to improve youth behavioral and mental health treatment. ASP recently interviewed Reid and found him eager to discuss suicide prevention policy, calling it "encouraging," yet adding, "we have much work remaining to do." He also talks about the loss of his father and how it impacted his politics and his life: "Personal tragedy can serve as a catalyst for change."

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