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Taking Strides to Save Lives

Angie Miles and Markita Madden are both on screen looking at the camera. Markita, on the right wearing a black shirt with blue flowers, is speaking while Angie Miles listens intently.
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VPM News Focal Point
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers hope and healing to Virginians.

Saving lives is the core mission of many mental health organizations, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which aims to save lives by taking strides, literally.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ANGIE MILES: Saving lives is the core mission of many mental health organizations, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which aims to save lives by taking strides, literally. The group's Virginia Programs Manager, Markita Madden is joining us now. And thank you so much for being with us today. 

MARKITA MADDEN: Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here.

ANGIE MILES: Now, I know that you are here in your professional capacity. But personally, you have a connection to this issue that no one would like to have you have a heartache, based on losses in your own life, would you share a little bit about that?

MARKITA MADDEN: Yes, and I'm really not that unique. AFSP [American Foundation for Suicide Prevention] is primarily a volunteer-driven organization. And most of us have come to know the organization, unfortunately, because of some connection to the cause. But I got involved because I've had three close losses in my family: I lost a brother in 2006; I lost my father in 2016; and then eight months later, in 2017, I lost my youngest brother. And so, I was introduced to the organization and actually got involved with my local walk, which is, I know, something we're going to share a little bit more about. But that's how I came to know about AFSP, initially.

ANGIE MILES: I know of course, that nothing can take away that pain. But I think it must be a comfort to have a sort of … group hug from the organization. And you all do that for a lot of people; tell us more about what you do.

MARKITA MADDEN: Well, we work primarily in four areas: research; education; advocacy; and support for those who've lost loved ones and those with lived experience, meaning those who have maybe made an attempt or had suicidal thoughts. … We work, you know, primarily in those areas, [and] volunteers are trained to deliver a lot of our programming, that's part of my new role as Programs Manager, not just to deliver our prevention education myself, but to train volunteers so that our reach is extended across the state, because obviously, I can't be everywhere all the time. But if we want to get the message out about saving lives and sharing hope, then they've got to be the legs and arms of the organization. And we're just fortunate that we have such a great volunteer base here in Virginia.

ANGIE MILES: Can you tell us a little bit about your projects, the walk in particular? The walks, I should say, [since] there are many of them. Tell us about those?

MARKITA MADDEN: We host in Virginia 13 community walks at this time, so we try to extend that reach across the state and touch … different corners of the state. And while it's a fundraising event, it really is an opportunity for those communities to come together for people to recognize that they're not by themselves. … For myself personally, to be able to find a walk here locally and join in that and realize, “…Did I really think about suicide before I had this experience?” And then you realize, you know, “I'm really not alone. Other people have been touched by this. And there's work being done to make sure that others don't experience what we've experienced.” And so, there is definitely that community that comes into play there that makes the fundraising part successful.

ANGIE MILES: What about people in the community who are not connected to AFSP? Who would like to be what, what can they do if they want to get involved with a walk, or to support you, or find out more?

MARKITA MADDEN: The best way is, is to visit our website, And there's even a tab there that says volunteer and there's a tab there with events. There's a tab there with any information you really want to find. We encourage people to register as a volunteer, there's a little bit of an application, but obviously we don't turn anybody away. We ask people to complete that just so we kind of know what your interest and skills are and try to find a good fit because we want it also to be a good volunteer experience for people.

ANGIE MILES: What is the mental health challenge that we need to fully understand and to address in preventing suicides?

MARKITA MADDEN: I think the number one thing – and this is kind of a little bit opinion more than research based – but I think a lot of people would agree with me, and especially coming out of COVID is, we've all felt so isolated and disconnected … just kind of remembering that we're really not alone. And just being able to connect again and find, because there's a, there's a protective factor and having that community of support. And when you feel like you've been isolated from that community, that's just, that's, that's hard on your mental state.

ANGIE MILES: Are there some communities that are more challenging than others, or some areas of mental health of addressing mental health that are more difficult, maybe talking about suicide?

MARKITA MADDEN: One challenge that we know we're having right now is during COVID. Again, we delivered a lot of our programming virtually, but we have areas of the state that don't have the infrastructure to support internet so that we can even get the programming to those to those areas. And so now coming out of that, again, one of my roles as programs manager is to consider how do we get that programming delivered there. And those are places that will be given priority to get back to in person. We've talked …about libraries and the network there, how do we encourage people to come into their libraries to take advantage of programming that we're delivering virtually. So, it takes some creativity, and even in faith communities, just every different possible community you can think of, we've kind of … considered and said, “What's our strategy to reach this group and to make sure that we're touching as many people as we can, with this message of prevention?”

ANGIE MILES: Well, we certainly applaud your efforts and hope that people who are interested will reach out and get connected with you all. And just we thank you for the work that you're doing because it helps all of us. So, thank you Markita Madden, with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and we wish you the best.

MARKITA MADDEN: Thank you so much.



Angie Miles, Host/Producer, anchors and hosts VPM News Focal Point and special broadcasts.
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