Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Flip of a Switch: A Life Plan Derailed -- Finding Purpose after a Trainwreck

By Guest Blogger Mike Schnittgen
Photo Credit: Craig Miller

On July 19, 2011 my life ended.

At the time I was a 27-year-old train conductor in Montana; a career that can be very demanding but allowed me to provide a quality of life for my family that even my college education could not afford. People would sometimes ask me if I got bored intellectually as if the career were not stimulating enough. I offset the negatives of the career by focusing on the positives like the one-on-one environment of the cab. I’d have fascinating conversations with co-workers -- former teachers, geologists, computer designers, investors, farmers, landscapers and many other types of professions that had all joined the profession in hopes of being able to provide a for a good life. Being an outdoors person, working on the rail gave me a mobile office and front row seat through some of the most scenic landscape on Earth.

In hindsight I had a pretty damn good life and one that seems almost like a dream teasing me with thoughts of what could have been. My college experience included scholarships for football and wrestling. Professionally, even though I had seen career opportunities waiver through grant funding cuts and furloughs, I had always been fiscally responsible and sound. A man, who’s currently a judge, once told me I had done a fine job of marrying “above myself”. My daughter, 6 months old at the time, was the perfect baby, rarely ever crying and sporting a gorgeous smile. I’m not sure I could have imagined a happier vision for myself.

Then, one fateful day my dream turned into a nightmare. Onboard a freight train in dark territory my engineer and I rounded a corner to see a train parked in the siding, a siding that we were erroneously lined into. At over a mile long and over ten thousand tons, the emergency brake lever flopped down with a pathetic limpness after I dumped the air. I knew I was going to die, and I felt terrible for that six-month old that was going to grow up without her father. There was an awkward moment of futility that occurred, when the realization that I had no control almost had a paralytic effect, it’s wasn’t even necessarily all fear but rather the knowing, that no action I could take would change the fact that I was going to die. Eventually as the sound of my engineer’s voice fought through that moment of shock, I followed his lead and resigned to my deathbed on the dusty floor of the locomotive cab. I laid there for what felt like an eternity but was only seconds feeling a terrible guilt for the leaving an infant fatherless. It’s hard to describe how long seconds become in a moment like that, time crawls by so much so that I started to un-tuck myself from the fetal position in an attempt to look around and see if somehow we had averted disaster. In that moment I felt the one thing that only a railroader could comprehend, I felt the violent sway of our engine as we hit a 10 mph turnout at over 30 mph. That moment the true definition of terror was revealed to me that moment was confirmation, that indeed we were going to collided with that train in the siding. As time goes on that is the moment, I don’t discuss in a crowd, I don’t describe to friends, and I don’t try to “feel”.

As I sit here typing this I still believe in some sense part of me did die when my train hit that other train. What I went through after that day, for a long period of time, I can only describe as Hell on earth. A lot of my ideas of what it meant to be a man, a father, a husband were no longer ideals I could identify with myself. Thoughts like: “What kind of man has panic attacks?” “How can I provide for my family now?” “What good am I?” “I can’t even lift the water jug onto the watercooler….”, were predominant and destroying my definition of my own identity. I was experiencing panic attacks, depression, feelings of shame and the physical limitations/pain, as a result of the extensive damage done to my back, did not help my mental status.

Inevitably the foundations of my life crumbled, after a year of treatment I was unable to safely perform work for the railroad, my wife asked for a divorce and at 28 years old I underwent my first back surgery. After the surgery, lying in agony in my father’s basement I felt like a monumental burden, a disappointment, a failure and a waste not even worthy of breathing. I had been a very independent and bright young man who took pride in always be able to find a solution to whatever problems life presented, at this point though I had none. A question crept into my mind:


Why deal the pain and the agony that was my existence at the time. My life had become too painful to endure and ending it seem like the only way to stop the pain. As I brought my pistol up to the side of my head, just like when I was facing that parked train in the siding, I waited for impact and my inevitable nonexistence, and my thoughts focused on that little girl who would grow up without her father. I have experienced some tremendous “cries” in the past five years but few have been similar to that one when I found a reason, a meaning, to keep fighting the pain, I cried thinking about how that would have affected her life, which meant that I was still worth something to someone. After that realization of meaning, to be a father that didn’t quit, I had a reason, I had purpose, and I had leverage against the pain. I still get choked up and experience a feeling of nausea when I think about the low point I was at that night.

I had sought counseling after the wreck and had been attending on a weekly basis but it was in a session, shortly after that low-point in my father’s basement, that I was able to find hope and figure out a path that would allow me to find an identity again. Even though I had been attending counseling, I struggled for over a year with trying to find an answer. My entire life plan had been wiped out in a matter of minutes and I felt an unbelievable amount of pressure to try to come up with a new one. Asking for help can be a difficult thing for anyone, especially working-age men. I believe the only reason I did is because I had heard the message so many times in my prior career. For a short period, had even been a spokesman at the state level for my county’s mental health committee but had never truly thought about being a consumer of mental health services. It’s not always easy but finding a reason to go on, but this has made a huge difference and allowed me to expand my answer to the simple question of “why?” Every time I hear some form of the word “dad” come from my daughter’s mouth I remember “why”.

Other things that have helped keep me going is an unrelenting family to whom I do not give enough credit.

Do something, anything to not be trapped in the pit of despair,” my father urged and kept forcing me to do simple housework and attend physical therapy, I hated him for it initially, I was in so much physical and mental pain. Though I am limited compared to the athlete I once was, my commitment physical therapy broke up that cycle of despair. My brothers dragged me out to fish and never complained about the expenses. The first time I caught a fish after the wreck I cried because of the intense burning sensation it caused in my back; that was humbling. I had surgery in the winter and they drug me back out in the spring to get me out of the house to do something I had enjoyed. Working out and fishing with my daughter still to this day remind me of how thankful I am to be here and how far I have come.

Honestly, I’ve never wanted to run from anything in my life the way I want to run away from this industry. However, I told a great man that people in this industry need advocates, that those coworkers who shared their knowledge and amazing stories with me were still out there working in an unforgiving industry with harsh psychological conditions along with many others like them. That great man agreed that trainmen need advocates and asked me what I was going to do about it. At the time of this discussion I had been seeking advice on a research paper for my graduate degree. That research was supposed to be on changing the mental health culture of a vocational field in which we had knowledge. With his encouragement I have shared the ideas in that paper with other mental health experts and potential agents of change in the industry. My desire is that sharing my ideas and experiences on what it’s like to be suffering and to be battling the various hurdles to recovery in the industry, will help reduce and prevent the future suffering of other railroaders. After years of physical therapy, counseling and the successful pursuit of a Master’s degree in counseling, I would like to help others to find their “why?” In this process of helping others, I too will benefit from a sense of purpose and greater meaning by using my experience of pain and suffering to help others with their own.

“He who has a Why to live can bear almost any How”-(Friedrich Nietzsche).

About the Author

Mike has found a new career, recently accepting a position as a school counselor in his home state. He continues to learn how to help others with their crisis and is currently adding to his education by enrolling in courses leading to certification as a licensed addictions counselor. He is thankful every day that being a father saved his life and always makes time for his beautiful little fishing buddy. Mike hopes to help raise awareness and improve mental standards in the rail industry to reduce and eliminate the mental health struggles of the underappreciated members of the rail industry.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Michael Phelps, Robin Williams and the “Lonely at the Top” Phenomenon Many Men Experience

Flickr Creative Commons by mah3nngs578
On the second anniversary of Robin Williams death by suicide, many of us are still haunted wondering how someone so talented, famous, and wonderful could feel so alone and hopeless. Earlier this summer, we heard a similar story when Michael Phelps disclosed that – like Williams – despite being a global celebrity with unparalleled abilities, he felt he had “…no self-esteem. No self-worth. I thought the world would just be better off without me. I figured that was the best thing to do -- just end my life." (Drehs, ESPN, 2016).

ESPN reporter Wayne Drehs observed, “Phelps realized that all the Olympic medals in the world couldn't ease his pain -- and instead made life more complicated.”

Tragically, this scenario is all too common for many men. While not usually on the world stage, the manly pursuit of achievement, power and wealth can lead to great status but often at the cost of relationships. Too often family and friends are afterthoughts as men strive for greater rewards. To cope with the loneliness that often results, men tend to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, sex, and other self-destructive behaviors.

In 2011. I wrote an article for Psychiatric Annals called “High Performers and Suicide Prevention in the Workplace.” The article was written largely to help me make sense of my brother Carson’s suicide in 2004. In the article, we summarized key findings from our focus groups with men:
  • ·        High performers often feel overwhelmed but do not think they are “allowed” to show it
o   “We must power through impossible expectations.”
  • ·        Mental health conditions are largely misunderstood
o   “There is a great deal of fear that equates mental disorders with violence or incompetence. No one wants to be associated with that. Fear overrides good sense.”
  • ·        High performers want to “fix” themselves
o   “I needed to stitch up my own wound like Rambo.”

High performers are less likely to expose vulnerability because of fear to appearing weak. They tend to white-knuckle through their distress because of a perception that any misstep might make them tumble from the top – and the fall could be far. Additionally, because of their high status position, others are less likely to offer empathy or even notice warning signs of mental health problems.

Noted thought leader and suicidologist Thomas Joiner wrote a book called Lonely at the Top in part to help us understand why so many men of working age are dying by suicide. His suggestion is that men need to make some conscious intentions about nourishing their relationships – as friends, parents, partners, and co-workers. While a thriving career might be giving men a sense of purpose tied to their achievements, without strong social connections, the isolation can erode self-worth and lead to life threatening depression.

Flickr Creative Commons by Cliff
Thus, it is quite fitting that the intervention that Phelps credits his recovery to is reading APurpose Driven Life.  This book led Phelps on a spiritual journey to uncover deeper meanings to “What on Earth am I here for?” Through this discernment process, he was able to focus on his life outside of the pool – as a son, as a father and as a soon-to-be-husband – and start a journey to recovery.

Michael Phelps is my hero on many levels. By publicly sharing his darkest moments at a time when the whole world was watching, he did more than gain a few more medals, he gave millions hope.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Words Make Worlds: Language and the Culture of Mental Health in the Workplace

Republished with Permission from Insurance Thought Leadership
By Sally Spencer-Thomas and Donna Hardaker

Part II: The Words about Suicide

[Part I of this series focused on why language matters in mental health advocacy and suicide prevention in the workplace. This article explores wording related to suicide that we want to see change and why. Part III will look at wording related to mental health.]

"suicidal" -- "suicide attempter" -- "he chose to die by suicide"

Photo from pexels.com
Language evolves as understanding evolves. We seek to draw attention to word and phrase choice about suicide and mental health as a means of articulating current understanding and intentionally pushing further evolution.

We are often asked: What is the best way to talk about suicide?

"Died by suicide"

Much of the language related to suicide death comes from a stigmatizing history. The term "committed suicide" originated when suicide was thought of as a sin or a crime, instead of as a fatal outcome of a set of thoughts, often a result of a mental health condition. It is still the most common way for people to describe a death by suicide in the general public, the media and even in the mental health sector. We can ask ourselves: does someone die by committing a car accident? By committing cancer?

Terms commonly used to describe whether a person has died or not: "successful" suicide or "unsuccessful" attempt. The use of the word successful is highly insensitive to the tragedy of a death by suicide. Similarly, we hear the term "completed suicide" to refer to a death by suicide. In North American culture we place a positive value on success and on completion, as with goals, projects, education, etc., so there is an inference that there is a good inside of the suicide death when we refer to it as successful or complete.

When talking about suicide in general, the suggested practice is to test language by substituting the word "cancer" for the word "suicide." If it sounds odd, chances are the phrase has come from a stigmatizing origin. For example, we wouldn't say "the cancer was successful," we would say "a person died from cancer." Thus "dies by suicide" is the best option we have to describe suicide death.

This also informs us as we are speaking that suicide is a cause of death, which encourages us to look at it with the same lens we look at cancer, car accidents, and other causes of death. We can seek to apply a public health advocacy approach, rather than a blame the victim approach which is a result of the use of archaic language.

"A person who is thinking of dying suicide"

When we label people, and group them according to an identifier, we are seeking to simplify who they are. It is a short-cut language strategy that also short-cuts understanding and connection. In suicide, it is often seen the label: "a suicidal person", "he is suicidal". Using our swap "suicide" for "cancer" rule: Are you cancerous or are you a person who has cancer? We prefer: "a person who experiences suicidal thoughts". "a person who is thinking of dying by suicide".

The fallacies of choice and manipulation

For most who die by suicide, we believe their choice would have been to live if they could have found a way out of the mindset of dying. Unbearable psychological pain may be accompanied by very strong internal commands to die. This experience is not the usual type of rational choice in the way we commonly think about choice. People often say "a person chose to die by suicide". Inside this thinking, there is a sense of an absolving anyone other than the person who died of any responsibility, which we understand. It is very difficult to grasp that a person has died by suicide, and we often seek solace in using language that infers that the person acted completely freely. We wish to undo this type of phrasing that infers that true "choice" is part of the picture. We prefer that people do not use the word "choice" when talking about a death by suicide.

Also in the language of suicide, we find phrases that infer that a person who has made a suicide attempt is manipulative, and is just "seeking attention." The phrase "suicide gesture" has an inference that intent is not genuine. We prefer: "an action with suicide intent."

"Precipitating Events"

When a person dies by suicide and we wish to talk about what lead up to their death, we often talk about "triggering events." The word "trigger" is problematic because of its strong connection to firearm use. Also, by calling something a triggering event, the phrase denies an opportunity for people to have mastery over the impact of the event. It is preferable to use a more objective term to describe prior events and challenges. We prefer: "precipitating events."

Clarity around "survivor"

The term "suicide survivor" is confusing. Depending on how it is used, this phrase may mean a suicide loss survivor (a loved one left behind when a person dies by suicide). At other times, it means suicide attempt survivor (the person who has made an action with suicide intent, and survived the action). Thus, the preferred terminology for people who are left behind: "a person who is bereaved by suicide," or "a person who is surviving a suicide loss". People who attempt suicide, but do not die can be referred to as: "a person who attempted suicide and survived" to help with clarity. In addition, the field of suicide prevention also seeks the expertise of people who have lived through a suicide crisis and did not have an attempt, and sometimes these folks are included under the umbrella of "people with lived experience of suicide."

In conclusion, "messaging matters" in suicide prevention and suicide grief support. For more best practices, review "The Framework for Successful Messaging by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention: http://suicidepreventionmessaging.actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/.


SALLY SPENCER-THOMAS: As a clinical psychologist, mental health advocate, faculty member, and survivor of her brother's suicide, Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas sees the issues of suicide prevention from many perspectives. Currently, she holds leadership positions for the Carson J Spencer Foundation, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and the American Association for Suicidology.

DONNA HARDAKER: Donna is an internationally recognized industry expert in the emerging field of workplace mental health. She is an award-winning curriculum developer, advocate, public speaker, writer, and advisor, who has leveraged her personal experience of mental health challenges and their impact on her employment history into a significant body of work. She is the Director of Wellness Works, a workplace mental health training program for Mental Health America of California that has been evaluated as highly effective in stigma reduction with lasting behavior and culture change. Donna is from Toronto, Canada, but now lives in Sacramento, where she greatly enjoys the California sunshine.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Words Make Worlds: Language and the Culture of Mental Health in the Workplace

Republished with Permission from Insurance Thought Leaderships
By Donna Hardaker and Sally Spencer-Thomas

Part I: The Science and Social Movement

"commit suicide" - "successful suicide" - "the mentally ill" - "suffering from a mental illness"

Photo by Benjamin Child
These phrases rattle off the tongue--yet we, as social justice advocates, find that they rattle our souls as people continue to use them in well-meaning workplace education programs and community discussions. Let us explain...

In 1984, George Orwell said, "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." The phrases above are commonly used inside and outside the mental health sector, and because of this common usage, they are accepted. We suggest that they corrupt the mindful thinking of those who speak them and those who hear them. We would like to change this.

What if being more mindful of our language could release new ways of thinking that eventually open up new opportunities for creative ideas, thoughtful approaches, and ultimately true social inclusion? What if we make a conscious effort to find words that more accurately reflect the experience of mental health conditions and suicide--would we be better able to have empathy, support, and inclusion in our workplaces and communities through the use of more skillful language? We argue: Yes.

Neurolinguistics tell us that the words we use as we speak inform the way our brains store and process information about whatever it is we are talking about. Words carry current meaning and history of meaning. Many words are associated with inaccurate and unfair messages that serve the perpetuate misunderstanding and prejudice. The labels applied to people who have mental health challenges by clinicians create assumptions, expectations, and interpretations that can set misperceived limits on how much growth and performance is possible, while also creating the means for social exclusion. We believe that this process is often unconscious and has an insidious effect on our collective thoughts and feelings, especially regarding marginalized groups, like people who live with suicidal experiences and mental health conditions.

We are hardwired to remember problems, especially when we perceive these problems to be dangerous. So using language that is negative, connotates difference, and insinuates a threat tends to be very "sticky." To undo this, we need to spend extra effort to build a vocabulary that is life-affirming, dignified, and inclusive. Paying attention to our language as we talk about mental health and suicide while constantly and intentionally working toward improving our language will help create a workplace culture of compassion, vitality and engagement.

Stigma reduction campaigns and workplace mental health trainings that do not pay careful attention to language are limiting their impact, and may be the reason why, even after the many years of stigma reduction campaigns, we are not much further ahead in terms of reducing stigma in the workplace.

Language is the most powerful tool in our understanding of each other. In any social movement, language must be addressed. How we speak about people informs us about them, so when we speak unconsciously, without attention to bias and misperception, we are perpetuating social prejudice and its damaging impact. By changing our language, we alter our perceptions and attitudes; this is social justice.

Part II: The Words--in the sequel to this blog we explore the history, impact and alternatives to specific words used when talking about suicide and mental health.


SALLY SPENCER-THOMAS: As a clinical psychologist, mental health advocate, faculty member, and survivor of her brother's suicide, Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas sees the issues of suicide prevention from many perspectives. Currently, she holds leadership positions for the Carson J Spencer Foundation, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and the American Association for Suicidology.

DONNA HARDAKER: Donna is an internationally recognized industry expert in the emerging field of workplace mental health. She is an award-winning curriculum developer, advocate, public speaker, writer and advisor, who has leveraged her personal experience of mental health challenges and their impact on her employment history into a significant body of work. She is the Director of Wellness Works, a workplace mental health training program of Mental Health America of California that has been evaluated as highly effective in stigma reduction with lasting behavior and culture change. Donna is from Toronto, Canada, but now lives in Sacramento, where she greatly enjoys the California sunshine.

Monday, February 22, 2016

You’ve never seen your own face. It takes a mirror to get a clean shave.

By Mike Valentine, On Purpose Now

Men can be by nature a “do it yourselfer”.  When it comes to problems we face in life there is often the question of “why can’t I just fix this myself”? The truth is we can. 

Many conventional methods of support for men actually turn men off.  There is an underlying and unspoken assumption we can’t solve things our self.  This undermines a man’s very nature as a producer, provider, and creator of life. 

Every man has a Gift to give, a Purpose to live and a Vision he’d build of a better self and world.  If he is told he is broken and can only be fixed by some other person, how can he find his Creative Self - build his confidence and fulfill his mission?  He can’t.  Rather, he starts to invest his faith in neediness and becomes repulsed of what he believes he has become.  Looking outside for what can only be found within is fools game.   Any sensible man knows you can’t get eggs at a dairy farm.  What he learns of himself looking for power, where there is none, is that he is foolish.  “Support” that teaches a man he is irrevocably needy disempowers him.  Most men know this deep in their hearts.

As a Life Purpose guide, I am often asked, “who needs a life coach”?  The truth is no one needs one.  What a man needs is inside him.  Your Purpose, if you aspire and commit to living it, will lead you to it, reveal itself to you, and direct you to the resources to make it happen.  It is already there, right under your nose.  If you have a good woman she is probably screaming at you “LOOK – IT IS RIGHT THERE!”

This is where it can get tricky.  Think about this for just a moment.  You have never seen your own face directly.  In order to see your face you have to use a mirror.  For most men their Gift, Purpose and Vision are a lot like this.  We’ve spent so much attention trying to measure up (for our dad, women, or other men) we can’t see our inherent nature as a creative resource for life.  Much like a fish doesn’t know and can’t see what water is, most men can’t see their real strength and power without a mirror or having someone help them look from outside the water.

As men, our interest is in the shortest path from point A to B.  If told we are broken and can’t make it, we will go it alone even if it means we have no back-up or support.  On the other hand, if we are shown a way to move with clarity, power and speed, we are eager to harness any measure of support, even if help is needed facing personal or emotional challenges.  We need only see how asking for help will lead us to the true strength inside and help us succeed in our purpose.  It is important to discern if help enables our neediness or empowers our true self.  When it empowers us from the inside out it leads us to our strength and helps us to live and express as the real men we are.


About the Author. Mike Valentine is Life Purpose Guide and pioneer of discovering and living On Purpose Now. Amidst dark shadows of life defining challenges, Mike Valentine activates the transformative power of Purpose to produce real results. With a strong backbone, kind heart, and direct approach, he has professionally coached people from all walks of life.  He has invested over 20,000 hours developing leaders, and scaled the ladder in three industries. His experience as an entrepreneur and corporate executive balance his training as a leader. In his own journey, Mike has 25 years of studying and practicing disciplines East and West, integrating physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual practices to pioneer his unique role as a Life Purpose Guide.  He loves to work with a direct approach and personal touch.  To schedule a Life Purpose consultation, call or email him directly at Mike@OnPurposeNow.com 303 842 6020. You can also visit OnPurposeNow.com to learn more.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Special Focus on “Military/Veterans” and New Man Therapy Resources

By Sally Spencer-Thomas

The constant beat of the major media drum often paints a grim picture of Veterans and suicide. Sometimes we wonder if
 these messages become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Consistent headline include data such as
  • Approximately 22 Veterans die by suicide each day (about one every 65 minutes).
  • In 2012, suicide deaths outpaced combat deaths, with 349 active-duty suicide; on average about one per day.
  • The suicide rate among Veterans (30 per 100,00) is double the civilian rate.

Listening to this regular narrative a collective concern and urgency emerges on how best to support our Veterans
who are transitioning back to civilian jobs and communities. Many Veterans have a number of risk factors for
suicide contributing to the dire suicide statistics mentioned above including:
  • A strong identity in a fearless, stoic, risk-taking and macho culture
  • Exposure to trauma and possible traumatic brain injury
  • Common practices of self-medication through substance abuse
  • Strong stigmatizing view of mental illness

Thus, employers and others who would like to support Veterans are not
always clear on how to be a "military-friendly community." What is often
 not always expressed in these media reports about statistics and risks is
the incredible resilience and resourcefulness our Veterans have when
facing many daunting challenges and the many ways that they have
learned to cope.

The Carson J Spencer Foundation and our Man Therapy partners Cactus
 and Colorado's Office of Suicide Prevention set out to learn more about
these questions and conducted a six-month needs and strength assessment
 involving two in-person focus groups and two national focus groups with
representation from Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and family

When asked how we could best reach them, what issues they'd like to see
addressed, and what resources they need, here is what they told us:

"I think that when you reach out to the Vets, do it with humor and compassion...Give them something to talk about in 
the humor, they will come back when no on is looking for the compassion." They often mentioned they preferred a 
straightforward approach that wasn't overly statistical, clinical or wordy.

Make seeking help easy. A few mentioned they liked an anonymous opportunity to check out their mental health from
 the privacy of their own home. Additionally, a concern exists among Veterans who assume some other service member
 would need a resource more, so they hesitate to seek help, in part, because they don't want to take away a resource from
 "someone who may really need it." Having universal access through the Internet gets around this issue.

New content requests: "We need to honor the warrior in transition. The loss of identity is a big deal along with 
camaraderie and cohesion. Who I was, who I am now, who I am going to be..." The top request for content was about
 how to manage the transition from military life to civilian life. The loss of identity and not knowing who
"has your back" is significant. Several were incredibly concerned about being judged for PTS (no "D"-- as the stress
 response they experience is a normal response to an abnormal situation). Requests for content also included:
  1. Post-traumatic stress and growth
  2. Traumatic brain injury
  3. Military sexual trauma
  4. Fatherhood and relationships, especially during deployment

Finally, they offered some suggestions on the best ways to reach Veterans are through trusted peers, family
 members and leaders with "vicarious credibility."

Because of these needs and suggestions, an innovative online tool called "Man Therapy" now offers male
Military/Veterans a new way to self-assess for mental health challenges and link to resources.
In addition to mental health support, many other things can be done to support Veterans
In conclusion, we owe it to our service members to provide them with resources and support and to listen carefully
to the challenges and barriers that prevent them from fully thriving. Learn how you can be a part of the solution instead
 of just focusing on the problem.


US Department of Veteran Affairs (2013, February 1). U.S. military veteran suicide rise, one dies every 65 minutes.
 Reuters, Retrieved from mobile.reuters.com. July 2,2015

Hargarten, J., Buurnson, F., Campo, B., and Cook, C. (2013, August 24) Veteran suicides: Twice as high as civilian
rates. Retrieved from backhome.news21.com/article/suicide/ July 2, 2015

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicides


Permission to post by International Thought Leadership

This year, for World Suicide Prevention Day, the theme is “Reaching Out to Save Lives” – a message all employers can use to let people know that everyone can play a role in suicide prevention. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force members and the organizations they serve offer the top six things workplaces can do during the month of September to make prevention a health and safety priority:

  1. Offer a Leadership Proclamation: “Not Another Life to Lose”
Members of executive leadership can take bold and visible positions declaring suicide prevention and mental health promotion critical workplace concerns. This proclamation can be in the form of a newsletter to employees or a video on a website.
  1. Highlight Mental Health Resources
Host a brown bag lunch program each day for the week. Invite employee assistance program (EAP) representatives or other local mental health professionals to offer educational session on stress, work-life balance, coping with depression or other related topics.
Offer a mental health fair where local suicide prevention, mental health or other wellness resources share more information and employees get a “passport” stamped for each one they visit. Completed passports go into a drawing for a prize.
Send resources to employees such as:
  1. Launch a Mental Wellness Task Force
A true comprehensive and sustained public health approach to prevention will take more than an awareness week or one-time training. To create significant change, a more strategic approach is needed. Start by pulling together a small group of stakeholders – people whose job titles reflect some level of relevance to this issue (i.e., wellness, HR, risk management, safety) and others who are passionate about prevention because it has touched their lives personally. Their task? To identify culturally relevant areas of strength and vulnerability for suicide within the organization and to develop a strategic approach to change.
Here are some resources:
  1. Leverage Social Media
During this week, companies can join the international conversation by posting on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Sample posts:
    • [Name of company or Twitter handle] makes #suicideprevention a health and safety priority #WSPD15
    • [Name of company or Twitter handle] We are doing our part to #preventsuicide during #NSPW. Everyone can play a role!
  • Hashtags:
    • National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 7-13)
      • #NSPW
      • #NSPW15
      • #SuicidePrevention
    • World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10)
      • #WSPD
      • #WSPD15
    • Workplace
      • #WorkplaceMH
      • #WorkingMinds
    • Guidelines on social media and mental health.
  1. Honor Suicide Loss With Candle-Lighting Ceremony
How companies respond to the aftermath of suicide matters greatly. Grief and trauma support, thoughtful communication and compassionate leadership can help a workforce make the transition from immobilization to a bonded community.
Here are some resources:
  1. Donate to or Volunteer for Local or National Suicide Prevention Organizations
Engaging in community prevention efforts is a great way for employees to give back and to get to know the local resources available. Corporate investments in prevention programs and research will help us get ahead of the problem. Get involved!
Here are some resources:

About the Author

description_hereSally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D., is the CEO of the Carson J Spencer Foundation, the Survivor Division director for the American Association for Suicidology and the Workplace Task Force co-lead for the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Dr. Spencer-Thomas is a professional speaker and trainer, presenting nationally and internationally on the topic of suicide prevention, and has published four books on mental health. She also maintains a blog on issues related to suicide prevention in the workplace.