American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

Suicide can devastate friends, family, loved ones and colleagues. Many wonder if they could have prevented the tragedy. The reasons why someone commits suicide may never be known, making it even harder to fathom and overcome. Even economic crises can drive someone to suicide when faced with no means to financially survive or support a family. Therefore, it is understandable to support groups that seem altruistic in addressing the rising rate of suicide and to put faith in them to stem the tide of this.

But when such groups are established by those steeped in the psychiatric-pharmaceutical industry, the motives become questionable. Members and supporters may not be aware of these motives. They may believe that pharmaceutical companies are being benevolent in donating funds for research. But many of these companies have been sued and investigated for covering up adverse effects of their products and unscrupulous marketing.

One gauge of the success of Pharma contributions is whether the problem the group was formed to decrease has achieved this in the wake of millions of dollars invested in it. This is not to say that other donors can be well-meaning people and families damaged by suicide, wanting to support a suicide prevention strategy. But in reality, the strategy may actually cause more suicides than it prevents.

The AFSP was started as a voluntary organization in 1987, founded by the late Herbert Hendin M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at NYU Medical College, who became AFSP’s CEO and Medical Director.[1] Hendin conducted studies using grants given AFSP by antidepressant makers Eli Lilly and Company (Prozac), Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (Effexor), Solvay Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Luvox), and Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Spavato nasal spray for depression).[2]

In 2008, AFSP merged with the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA or SPAN which had announced in 2004 that “SPAN USA’s efforts to develop and expand its suicide survivor network received a major boost with a recent grant from Eli Lilly and Company Foundation.”[3]

Columbia University psychiatrist David Shaffer, inventor of the disgraced TeenScreen depression screening program, is a past president of and was a member of the board of directors of ASFP. GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Solvay Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson had members on AFSP’s board.[4] “TeenScreen” was a “controversial tool” that Marcia Angell (Harvard Professor and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine) described as “just a way to put more people on prescription drugs.”[5] Even Shaffer acknowledged there was an 84% false positive rate of teens identified as suicidal and referred for evaluation.[6] Shaffer is a long-term spokesperson for Eli Lilly and fronted for its antidepressants and antipsychotics.[7] Other industry affiliations include consultant for Hoffmann-La Roche, Wyeth (expert trial witness) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).[8]

Charles Nemeroff—under Senate investigation in 2008 for his undisclosed $1.2 million earned from Pharma—served on the AFSP’s national board of directors, starting in 1999 and has “been a member of the Foundation’s Scientific Council for more than 10 years.” He was chair of the Council in 2007 and then elected president in 2011.[9] A colleague referred to Nemeroff as part of what many liked to call the “psychiatric mafia”—psychiatrists that had close ties to industry. “The picture of corruption that emerged thanks to [Senator] Grassley’s investigation, and other investigations into industry-funded trials, told of how academic medicine had been horribly corrupted, with psychiatry the specialty that was most compromised” according to a report published in December 2019.[10] Nemeroff was still listed as a director of AFSP in 2019.[11] This, despite his being the subject of the congressional inquiry that found him to have so much unreported Pharma income, the $9.3 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study depression that he managed was suspended, which happens rarely. He left Emory University in disgrace.[12] Nemeroff was the lead author of the notorious study #352, published in 2001, which studied the antidepressant paroxetine (Paxil) as treatment for bipolar. Essentially, the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) ghostwritten study spun negative results as positive ones. As reported in December 2019, “Pharmaceutical companies would hire ghostwriting firms to manipulate data and write articles ‘spinning’ the results. The drug companies would then get academic psychiatrists, who were described by the companies as ‘thought leaders,’ to agree to be the authors of the study in order to lend credibility to those misleading results. These same ‘experts’ would then be paid to give talks promoting the company’s drug. They would be paid handsomely—in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars—to serve the pharmaceutical company’s commercial interests in this way.”[13]

GSK was admonished and fined many times since 2001, including once for $3 billion, for exaggerating Paxil’s safety and marketing it improperly for use in adolescents. As Benedict Carey noted in his New York Times story, thousands of children, teens, and young adults attempted or committed suicide while on Paxil (paroxetine)—but it’s impossible to know how many, if any, did so because of Paxil.[14]

Nemeroff is one of the people in charge of the American Psychiatric Association’s policy on research ethics![15] [See Dwight Evans, AFSP director, below, for more information].

In 2017, international psychopharmacology expert and psychiatrist, Dr. David Healy, wrote of AFSP being “involved in a retooling and expansion of official psychiatry’s support system in the past three years. It has played a key role in founding a broader organization called the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, which draws in U.S. military and governmental agencies as well as corporate heavy hitters to back the brand of mental health care favored….”[16]

Its Board of Directors, Healy added, had included top execs from the for-profit Universal Health Services, whose behavioral healthcare facilities came under Federal Department of Justice investigation and in 2020 settled fraud allegations against it, agreeing to pay $122 million.[17]

It is alleged that advocacy groups unwittingly become a marketing arm of the pharmaceutical companies funding them in order to promote psychotropic drug use, which results in increased sales. AFSP, founded by a psychiatrist, claims now to be the world’s largest suicide prevention organization.[18] In 2014, AFSP CEO, Robert Gebbia, announced their goal to reduce the annual suicide rate 20% by 2025.[19] In 2009, Gebbia had led the effort to bring AFSP and the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA together through a merger. He is a founding member of the National Council for Suicide Prevention.[20]

Yet, suicide has not been prevented or reduced in the more than 30 years since AFSP was formed, and certainly not since 2014.  CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) statistics reveal that suicides only increased—13% between 2014 (42,773 recorded suicides) and 2018 (48,344).[21]

Psychiatrists often consider antidepressants to be a key strategy for preventing and treating suicide. AFSP’s treatment section on its website discusses antidepressants. It undermines the serious risks of these drugs, by stating that when antidepressants are started or when doses are increased, a “few patients, especially children, adolescents and young adults, may experience increased anxiety, agitation, restlessness, irritability or anger which may lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.”[22] [Emphasis added] The U.S. rate of antidepressant use—among teens and adults (ages 12 and older) increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008.[23] In 2018, almost 25 million adults had been taking antidepressants for at least two years, a 60% increase since 2010.[24] In 2019, IQVia statistics showed over 44 million Americans, including children and teens, are taking antidepressants.[25]

Pharmaceutical Company Influence 

  • The AFSP’s 2008 Annual Report showed a grant of $100,000 from the Lilly Foundation. It also listed grants of between $50,000 and $99,999, from antidepressant makers, Lilly, Pfizer and Wyeth, between $25,000 and $49,999 from Forest Labs, and between $10,000 and $24,000 from Solvay.[26]
  • Eli Lilly’s first quarter grant report for 2009 showed it funded AFSP.[27]
  • Solvay provided at least $1.2 million in the AFSP’s effort to build up a $5 million research fund and Pfizer contributed funding for surveys. Some of Shaffer’s suicide surveys are made financially possible through an educational grant from Pfizer.[28]
  • GlaxoSmithKline and Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc. have all also funded different conferences held by AFSP.[29]
  • AFSP’s 2012 annual report revealed a $100,000 donation from Forest Laboratories, and donations from Eli Lilly, Pfizer and five other Pharma companies.[30]
  • It was reported in 2017 in AFSP’s annual report that Pharma companies Sunovion, Janssen, Forest, Pfizer and Otsuka America Pharmaceuticals were financial donors. The group had also appointed Phil Satow, former Forest Laboratories executive to its Project 2025 Advisory Committee. Satow has worked for many Pharma companies and is co-founder and board chair of the JED.[31]
  • 2019 national donors included The Allergan Foundation ($50,000 plus); ($25,000 – $49,999) Janssen Research & Development, LLC; Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc.; Sunovion; ($10,000-$24,999) Alkermes, Inc.; Lundbeck LLC, Pfizer; and ($5,000-$9,999) Johnson & Johnson.[32]
  • The 2019 “Lifesavers Gala” was chaired on behalf of Allergan. (Allergan was acquired by AbbVie in 2020.)[33] The company makes the SSRI antidepressants, Sarafem, Celexa and Lexapro, and Viibryd; and Saphris (atypical antipsychotic), and Savella (SNRI antidepressant), and Vraylar (for Bipolar Disorder).[34]
  • In 2019, AFSP gave grants of more than $3.45 million to 14 universities/medical schools and three psychiatric facilities for suicide research. Progress reports are “thoroughly reviewed” by AFSP’s research and medical directors.[35] In 2020, Christine Moutier was the Chief Medical Officer for AFSP, joining the group in 2013. Moutier is a practicing psychiatrist, professor of psychiatry, dean in the medical school of the University of California, San Diego, and medical director of the Inpatient Psychiatric Unit at the VA Medical Center in La Jolla.[36] In 2019, Moutier was compensated $377,504 and 59,750 for other compensation from AFSP.[37]
  • In 2014, The British Medical Journal reported, ”The AFSP’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Christine Moutier, openly called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to withdraw the black-box warning” that informs consumers and families of the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in those taking antidepressants up to the age of 24. At the time, statistics were bandied about of an increase in suicides since the black box warning was issued in 2004. But as an opinion reported in BMJ, stated: “The authors are aware that these figures gravely misrepresent their findings about what happened in the wake of the FDA warnings. I realize they may have limited control over what NBC News or the Chicago Tribune say about their work. However, surely, they could exert some influence over the press releases put out by the Harvard Medical School. Ditto the press releases of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), two hugely influential nonprofits which were co-founded by, or have day-to-day access to, the leading figures in American psychiatry. All these outlets have repeated the flawed, alarmist figures word for word. Did those who knew better make any effort to help the general public do the math? Just the opposite.”[38] 
  • Jill Harkavy-Friedman, Vice President of Research, has a BA in psychology and a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. In 1989, she moved to Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute, first as an assistant professor and later as an associate professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry. She maintains a clinical practice in Manhattan.[39] In 2019, AFSP compensated her $161,708.[40]

Other Officers Appointed for 2020:

  • President of AFSP: Maria Oquendo, M.D.[41] She is a past President of the American Psychiatric Association from 2017-2020, Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She previously served as Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and Research Psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. She was secretary of the Board of Trustees and chaired APA’s Conflict of Interest Committee.[42] Yet she has received unrestricted educational grants and/or lecture fees form AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Otsuka, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, and Shire. She receives royalties from the commercial use of the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS), and her family owns stock in Bristol-Myers Squibb.[43] Oquendo has received financial compensation from Pfizer; and she was the recipient of a grant from Eli Lilly to support a year’s salary for the Lilly Suicide Scholar.[44]
  • Vice President: Gary Kennedy, M.D., Vice Chair for Education and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry and Fellowship Training Program at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.[45] Kennedy has received grant support from Forest Laboratories and speaker honoraria from Pfizer, Inc. Myriad Pharmaceuticals.[46] He also received research support from Forest and Pfizer, Inc.[47]
  • Treasurer: Ed Stelmakh, senior vice president and CFO of Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. Stelmakh held senior-level positions in several healthcare companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi-Aventis, Organon, Mylan, and Covance before joining Otsuka.[48]
  • Chair, Scientific Council: Gretchen Haas, Ph.D. Member, Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Psychology, University of Pittsburgh.[49] Director of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System VISN (Veterans Integrated Service Networks) 4 Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center and Director of the Family and Psychosocial Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.[50] 
  • Chair, Development/Project 2025 Campaign: Marco Taglietti is Chief Executive Officer, SCYNEXIS, Inc., a biotechnology company. He served as Executive Vice President, Research and Development and Chief Medical Officer of Forest Laboratories, Inc. and as President of the Forest Research Institute until its acquisition by Actavis in 2014. Prior to joining Forest Laboratories in 2007, Dr. Taglietti held the position of Senior Vice President, Head of Global Research and Development, at Stiefel Laboratories, Inc., a GSK company, for three years. He joined Stiefel Laboratories after 12 years at another pharmaceutical company, Schering-Plough Corporation.[51]
  • VP of Mission Engagement: Doreen Marshall, Ph.D., joined ASFP in 2014. Dr. Marshall works to foster partnerships with mental health organizations, such as with the National Council for Behavioral Health to train people across the country in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA),[52] which has been criticized. For example, Jan Nadine Defehr of the University of Winnipeg pointed out: “Rooted in psychiatry, MHFA trains citizens to pathologize human suffering rather than critique the consequences of unjust social structures and power relations.”[53] MHFA is sponsored by the U.S. National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH), which Patrick Hahn, a professor of biology at Loyola University, said has 12 pharmaceutical companies supporting it.[54] Attending a Youth MFHA class, Hahn reportedly noted the training seemed geared toward pushing more young people toward more psychiatric drugs without regard for scientific evidence.[55] Hahn questioned whether those attending the program realized that they were essentially sitting through an eight-hour infomercial paid for by the drug makers.[56] 

Directors/Scientific Advisors:

  • Dwight L. Evans, M.D., Scientific Advisor:Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania.[57] He was elected President of AFSP in 2005.[58]  In 2009, Evans became president of the American College of Psychiatrists. He ended his tenure as chair of the psychiatry department at Penn on January 1, 2017.[59] He has received grant/research support from NIMH and is a consultant to Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb/Otsuka, Eli Lilly, Forest Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceutica/Johnson & Johnson, Neuronetics, Pamlab LLC, and Wyeth Laboratories.[60] In 2011 and 2019, Dr. Jay D. Amsterdam, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, alleged research misconduct against Evans and others, including Dr. Charles Nemeroff, by allowing their names to be appended to a manuscript that was drafted by a “medical communications company” (Scientific Therapeutics Information, “STI”) hired by SmithKline Beecham (now known as GlaxoSmithKline, “GSK”), and which Dr. Amsterdam contended misrepresented information from a scientific research study (Paroxetine Study 352).[61] The article was ghostwritten and managed by GSK and Scientific Therapeutics Information, Inc. without acknowledging their contribution in the published article, according to the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care. “The named authors with financial ties to GSK had little or no direct involvement in the paroxetine 352 bipolar trial results and most had not reviewed any of the manuscript drafts. The manuscript was originally rejected by peer review; however, its ultimate acceptance to the American Journal of Psychiatry was facilitated by the journal editor who also had financial ties to GSK.”[62] In December 2019, it was reported that it “had taken 18 years for the full story of that corruption to become known, the final chapter recently emerging when a large cache of study 352 documents—emails, memos, and other internal correspondence between the key players—was made public.”[63]
  • Kelly Posner, Ph.D.: Professor of Psychiatry in the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and the Founder and Director of The Columbia Lighthouse Project (formerly the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment).[64] She headed the FDA-organized Columbia University review of antidepressant studies to determine if they could cause children to commit suicide and was a non-voting member of the FDA panel that heard evidence of this in a September 2004 hearing.[65] While Posner claimed the Columbia team had conducted “the first analysis to show a relationship between suicide attempts and one of the antidepressants” she added, “It’s not clear that the drug caused the behavior.” Posner has received research support from GSK, Forest, Eisai, Z Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Labs, Wyeth-Ayerst Research, Organon USA, BMS, Sanofi-Aventis, Cephalon, Novartis, Shire and UCB Pharma.[66]
  • Philip Satow: Co-founder of The Jed Foundation, has more than 30 years of sales and marketing experience in pharmaceuticals at Forest Labs and Pfizer. He is both the former President of Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Executive Vice President of Forest Laboratories, Inc., its parent.[67]
  • Philip T. Ninan, M.D.: Affiliate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University since 2012. Previously, he was a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia (1983-2006). From 2006 to 2012, he was a Vice President in Neuroscience, initially at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (Global Medical Affairs), where he was a mouth piece for Wyeth’s antidepressant, Pristiq, and subsequently at Pfizer (Clinical Sciences).[68] He has been a consultant for Cephalon, Cyberonics, Forest, Janssen, UCB Pharma, and Wyeth; has received grant/research support from Cephalon, Cyberonics, Eli Lilly, Forest, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, NIMH, Pfizer, UCB Pharma, and Wyeth; and has been a member of the speakers bureau for or received honoraria from Cephalon, Cyberonics, Forest, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Pfizer, and Wyeth.[69]




[3] Martha Rosenberg, “Stop Suicide By Helping Big Pharma, Says Shady Suicide Prevention Group,” Counterpunch, 23 Aug. 2017,


[5] Martha Rosenberg, “Stop Suicide By Helping Big Pharma, Says Shady Suicide Prevention Group,” Counterpunch, 23 Aug. 2017,




[9]; Martha Rosenberg, “Stop Suicide By Helping Big Pharma, Says Shady Suicide Prevention Group,” Counterpunch, 23 Aug. 2017,









[18] “Nation’s Largest Suicide Prevention Organization Awards Grant to Study Opioids and Suicide,” PR Newswire29 Aug. 2018,












[30] Martha Rosenberg, “Stop Suicide By Helping Big Pharma, Says Shady Suicide Prevention Group,” Counterpunch, 23 Aug. 2017,

[31] Martha Rosenberg, “Stop Suicide By Helping Big Pharma, Says Shady Suicide Prevention Group,” Counterpunch, 23 Aug. 2017,






















[53] Jan Nadine DeFehr, “Inventing Mental Health First Aid: The Problem of Psychocentrism,” Studies in Social Justice, Vol 10, Issue 1, 2016,

[54] “Drug companies prey on children,” The Baltimore Sun, 25 Dec. 2016,


[56] “Drug companies prey on children,” The Baltimore Sun, 25 Dec. 2016,;








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