The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) was proud to host AAS20, its 53rd Annual Conference, as a complete and comprehensive virtual experience between April 23 – 25, 2020. Although AAS20 was on-track to be the best attended conference in the organization’s history, the organization canceled the in-person event due to health concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic and pivoted to an online event. Despite all this, more than 2800 people registered (1000 more than last year), making this the highest participation for an annual AAS conference, ever. This not only reflects the growing need for international suicide prevention initiatives, but also speaks to the quality of the conference content.
AAS felt a responsibility to uphold its role in providing the largest annual professional convening place for those who have been touched by suicide. Researchers, academicians, public health officials, prevention specialists and many more, were able to join online from across the world to establish effective strategies for addressing the rising suicide rate in this country. This year’s theme, Crossroads: Preventing Suicide and Creating Lives Worth Living, guided the programming, which was built on a framework of equity.
“We had a responsibility to our members and society at large to pivot online. It would have been hypocritical to plan a landmark conference – the first to look at suicidology through an equity lens – and then cancel during a time when people are dying because of long-standing inequities in health care, insurance coverage, and access to food and shelter,” said Jonathan Singer, PhD, President of AAS. “The fact that we were at record numbers for registration, sponsorship and exhibitions reflected the excitement that people were feeling around this theme. We had organized the most racially, ethnically and conceptually diverse group of invited speakers in the conference’s history. These speakers, along with the hundreds of presenters, were perfectly positioned to address equity and suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.
Even within a digital platform, AAS was able to provide one of the most inclusive and diverse lineups ever, with over 100 concurrent sessions and more than 25 speakers and subject matter experts were featured during our plenary and keynote sessions. The members of AAS wholeheartedly embraced the platform, engaging with presenters and content in new and exciting ways with the help of features like Chat and Live Q&A.
“We worked hard to make sure this year’s program focused on inclusivity, equity and giving a voice to those who often get overshadowed or forgotten by this field,” said Colleen Creighton, AAS CEO. “It was imperative that we did everything possible to continue with our conference; we owed it to our members. It was then both heartening and exciting to see our members support the pivot and embrace the virtual format in such a way that we exceeded all expectations and see the largest turnout for any of our conferences in our association’s 50+ year history”.
AAS also announced it will be providing a follow-up AAS20 Academy, which will provide access to all the recorded sessions from throughout the conference to everyone in attendance and anyone who registers post-conference. This will allow unprecedented access to breakout sessions not previously possible with in-person conference experiences. The organization will use this platform to continue adding content from speakers and experts through the Summer and Fall of 2020.