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History of the American Association of Suicidology

Brief History of AAS

Edwin S. Shneidman establishes AAS in 1968

The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) was founded by clinical psychologist Edwin S. Shneidman, Ph.D. in 1968.  After co-directing the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center (L.A.S.P.C.) since 1958, Dr. Shneidman was appointed co-director of The Center for Suicide Prevention at the National Institute of Mental Health (N.I.M.H.) in Bethesda, MD.  There he had the opportunity to closely observe the limited available knowledge-base regarding suicide. 

Consequently, under the sponsorship of the N.I.M.H., he organized a meeting of several world-renowned scholars in Chicago, determined the need for and fathered a national organization devoted to research, education, and practice in "suicidology," and advancing suicide prevention.

With his years of leadership directing a suicide prevention center, Shneidman was quick to recognize a contemporaneous and rapid expansion of the crisis center/hotline movement across the United States.

The newly established AAS embraced these centers as sources of research information on suicidal clients.  Soon, the relationship between the AAS and these centers was symbiotic. 

AAS became the central clearing house for support and the hub of a many-spoked wheel, networking these centers to common needs, training materials, and goals.

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Certification & Training

It was a result of this marriage of research and crisis counseling that led the AAS to develop a set of standards and criteria for certification of crisis centers throughout the United States. Since certifying its first center in 1976, the AAS now has over 80 centers meeting stringent standards of service and training.

In 1989, the AAS began a certification program for individual crisis workers as well. By the end of 1996, over 225 individuals had passed a rigorous examination of their knowledge and application of crisis theory to their work with clients. The AAS continues to take a leadership position in the crisis center and suicide prevention movement.

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AAS Becomes a Membership Organization

In addition to crisis center staff and volunteers the AAS membership includes researchers, mental health clinicians, public health specialists, school districts, and survivors of suicide. 

From a small group of leaders who met in Chicago in 1968, the AAS now boasts a membership of almost 1,000 individuals and over 250 organizations. 

AAS produces a referral directory of over 600 suicide prevention and crisis centers nationwide and a directory of almost 300 survivor support groups. 

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The work of AAS

Thousands of calls are received annually in the AAS Central Office from the public and the media regarding referrals and informational needs.  Public education and information have become core functions of the AAS. 

To that end the AAS has produced a variety of fact sheets, brochures, statistical reports, books, and resources offered to the public and professional communities.

The AAS has produced a major conference of research presentations and panels, training workshops, and interactive discussions annually since its inaugural meeting.  The abstracts of the annual conference are published as Proceedings each year.  Major papers from this meeting often appear in addition to independently submitted research and case studies, in the Association's peer-reviewed journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 

Two newsletters are published on a quarterly basis by the AAS.  Newslink presents articles and information of current interest on suicide and suicide prevention activities as well as organizational communications. Surviving Suicide similarly focuses on information of support to survivors and those who work with them.

The AAS also sponsors a second conference each year, Healing After Suicide, which brings together professionals and survivors to share information specific to working through suicide bereavement.

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AAS Today

In January 1995 the AAS moved its Central Office to Washington, DC after 14 years in Denver, CO.  With that move and the appointment of Dr. Alan L. Berman to be Executive Director, a renewed commitment toward intellectual and proactive leadership was made by the Board of Directors

An active program of externally supported research and prevention programming has begun and complements the AAS's on-going investment in setting standards for and upgrading the skills and understandings of those who work with at-risk individuals.

With suicide a constant reality with no boundaries in our society, it touches the old and young, rich and poor.  Regardless of race, religion, or gender we all are impacted in some way by suicide.  Our goal is not to eradicate suicide but to impact, one by one, the lives of those who are or may yet be suicidal. 

Through better research, education, prevention programs, and treatment the American Association of Suicidology has pledged itself to a mission of understanding and preventing suicide as a means of promoting human well-being.

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