Mary Lou Arveseth: Volunteering to Save Lives

Mary Lou Arveseth, designated supervisor for Financial Network in Draper, Utah, co-founded the Utah chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in 2010 after her son died by suicide the year before.

“We were stranded on a desert island of grief,” she said. “We had no resources to help us cope.”

Information is crucial. “It was comforting to me to eventually learn that more than 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness at the time of the death,” Mary Lou shared.

The new chapter tapped into a significant unmet need. “We’re stunned by the growth of the chapter and the interest,” she said. “We can’t keep up with it.”


The chapter has achieved much in its short history, including:

  • Getting bills passed requiring suicide prevention education of all school employees, and parents’ nights on suicide prevention in all schools.
  • Providing suicide awareness, prevention and response training across the state.
  • Starting an annual fundraising walk, providing widespread awareness, hope, and comfort to bereaved families and friends. In 2015, about 4,000 people raised more than $100,000.

“I’m really proud to say that in Utah, we used to be the third in the nation for suicide loss, and in the last year, we’re down to number five,” Mary Lou explained. “Still, that’s not a top five list we want to be on, and we don’t want to stay there.”


Mary Lou won the 2016 Invest in Others Volunteer of the Year Award for her role in co-founding and growing the Utah chapter of the AFSP. The Volunteer of the Year Award is presented annually to an advisor who has made a significant impact on a non-profit as a volunteer of at least 3 years by creating, implementing, or managing a project or program that has moved the organization forward and has made a lasting impact on his or her community.

Upon accepting the award at the annual Community Leadership Awards Gala in September, she asked for the audience’s help. “Please remember this national hotline number: 800-273-TALK,” she said. “You really might save a life.”