National Suicide Prevention Award Honors Leaders of First Known Trial Showing that Non-Medical Peers Can Make a Difference in Safety Planning for Patients at Risk of Suicide

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) will honor three experts with the 2022 Innovation in Acute Care Suicide Prevention Award. This year’s award honors the leaders of the first pilot of a peer-delivered suicide safety planning program in the emergency department.

“The nation’s emergency departments are vital partners in the fight to prevent suicide, as people at risk for suicide are often identified and connected to treatment by emergency physicians,” said AFSP CEO Bob Gebbia. “That's why we are excited to recognize leaders in emergency medicine with the 2022 ACEP/AFSP awards for their innovation in the care of suicidal patents seen in the emergency department.”

Emergency departments are many patients’ first access point to care and 31% of people who die by suicide visit an emergency department in the year prior to their death, which means there are important opportunities to enhance prevention, assessment, and intervention. A safety plan empowers the patient to design and utilize a personalized list of coping skills, activities and supports for patients to cope with suicidal thoughts. Today, safety planning is a best practice and vital tool for patients working through recovery after a suicide attempt or suicidal crisis.

Safety plans involve providing support to help manage periods of intense suicidal ideation and are one of the brief interventions that have been studied and can reduce suicidal behavior among high risk individuals. These plans are typically developed by the patient in collaboration with a trained professional. However, given the pronounced shortage of mental health workers and resources, it can be challenging to find continuously available experts with specialized training in suicide prevention and education. 

The winning researchers tested the feasibility of safety planning initiated in the emergency department, led by peers, people in the community who provide support through compassion, empathy, and lived experience with suicidal thoughts or behaviors, but lack formal medical training. The results revealed that participants were equally likely to embrace peer-delivered safety plans, and more likely to complete the programs led by peers, than those led by professionals. 

The 2022 AFSP/ACEP award recipients are:

Michael P. Wilson, MD, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Division of Research and Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Department of Emergency Medicine
Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry
Director, Department of Emergency Medicine Behavioral Emergencies Research (DEMBER) lab UAMS, Little Rock, Arkansas

Angie Waliski, Ph.D.
Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research
Central Arkansas Veterans Administration Healthcare System
Center for Health Services Research
Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Ronald G. Thompson, Jr., Ph.D., LCSW
Assistant Professor 
Center for Health Services Research
Center for Addiction Research
Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

“Enhancing access to treatment and services for mental health crises in the emergency department can save lives,” said Christopher S. Kang, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “ACEP applauds the honorees for developing promising evidence that peer support can be a valuable complement to emergency physician-led care related to suicide provided in the emergency department.”  

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is the national medical society representing emergency medicine. Through continuing education, research, public education, and advocacy, ACEP advances emergency care on behalf of its 40,000 emergency physician members, and the more than 150 million people they treat on an annual basis. For more information, visit and

Contact: Steve Arnoff | | Twitter @EmergencyDocs

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, and with a public policy office in Washington, D.C., AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states with programs and events nationwide. Learn more about AFSP in its latest Annual Report, and join the conversation on suicide prevention by following AFSP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Media Contacts:
María de los Ángeles Corral, AFSP VP of Public Relations, 917-439-2949