Thursday, October 2, 2014

One World Connected: Making Suicide Prevention a Global Imperative

September 7, 2014
Sally Spencer-Thomas

For the past two weeks I have had the immense privilege of traveling internationally to participate in some of the most exciting global suicide prevention initiatives of the year. The events have left me humbled, inspired and feeling deeply connected to something big and important. First, I attended the 15th European Symposium on Suicide and Suicidal Behavior (ESSSB15) in Tallinn, Estonia and then I had the tremendous honor of being invited to the World Health Organization’s launch of the World Suicide Report in Geneva, Switzerland. Both of these experiences have left me with the tangible impression of “one world connected” – the theme of this year’s National Suicide Prevention Week (9/8-9/14, 2014) and World Suicide Prevention Day (9/10/14).

The theme of connection is potent. When it comes to suicide prevention, having a strong sense of community and belonging is one of the most powerful protective factors against suicide. When people feel connected to something larger than themselves, they are often able to weather life’s hardships much better than those who feel isolated or who believe that they have become a burden to those who love them. This sense of connection happens between individuals; it also occurs in the global community.

In fact, connection, inclusion and collaboration were themes that emerged from both meetings from the highest levels of our world’s mental health leaders. From ESSSB15 we heard loud and clear the need to “bring the first person into our research” because we had lots of study about the “suicidal mind” but little understanding. Leaders called to action: bridge the communication gap between researchers and people with lived experience and to acknowledge the importance of compassion and empathy, dialogue and partnership. We need to get beyond studying suicidal behavior and find positive outcomes of change. As Jerry Reed, the Director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, said, “We talk a lot about deaths, but we need to talk about hope and recovery.”

Equally emphasized was the message of new and needed voices in the work of suicide prevention. Many talked about the role of making suicide prevention a central focus of health care; about the priority to engage parents and educators and to involve those that support our unemployed and underemployed.

At the World Health Organization’s two-day meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Shahkar Saxena, Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse of WHO made clear his call to action from opening remarks to the 100+ delegates from over 30 countries, when he talked about the purpose of the meeting: implementing an action plan through collaboration, “One World Connected.”

For a copy of the First World Suicide Report:

Lifting up the voices of lived experience was also a priority of this ceremonial launch of the World Suicide Report. The day began with powerful testimonies from both a suicide attempt survivor from the UK and a suicide loss survivor from Kenya. Both attributed the power of compassion as the critical element to what helped them survive their dark times.

Dr. Danuta Wasserman from Sweden, the current President of the European Psychiatric Association said, “We must listen to the voices of lived experience because they challenge what we think we know.”

Dr. Kathleen Lynch, Minister of State for Primary and Social Care in Ireland reiterated the “One World” theme when she said, “This is not about the other. It’s about us. We need systems of kindness.”

Finally, Michelle Funk, Director of Mental Health Policy for WHO underscored the importance of human rights and social justice as we move into the next chapter of the suicide prevention movement. She facilitated an important conversation about strengthening leadership and governance in the movement to build capacity and improve sustainability in our efforts. Together the international partners attending committed to improving opportunities for peer support and practical recovery models. Still, in 25 countries, suicidal behavior remains criminalized and many countries, including the US still use coercion, seclusion and restraints as a method of “treatment.” Clearly, we have much work ahead of us.
Perhaps the most moving part of the whole 10-day experience was the presentation Matthew Johnstone, founder, illustrator and source of inspiration for the viral campaign called, “I had a black dog, his name is depression.”

Matthew illustrated the images, which became both a book and a viral video now reaching almost 4,000,000 people:

He talked about the power of illustration to demonstrate experiences that are often beyond words. Experiences of despair and hopelessness, but also experiences of connection and recovery are depicted with charm and accuracy. As the conclusion of the meeting, Johnstone announced the launch of the new video, “Living with a Black Dog” for the supporters and carers of people living with depression:

This new video launched just three days ago and already has over 6,000 views.

On the plane ride home yesterday, I reflected on the intensity of our field, the potential we have when we reach out and support, and the incredible momentum we are starting to generate from the power of collaboration and the courage of lived experience; I am humbled and in awe. One World Connected.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Randi Wood Honored as Volunteer of the Year

Director of Colorado State Employee Assistance Program’s Leadership Recognized by
The Carson J Spencer Foundation

Randi and her Grandbaby
Denver, Colorado. August 5, 2014.  As the Director of the Colorado State Employee Assistance Program, Randi Wood is not a stranger to mental health issues in the workplace. Since 2008, however, she has taken this professional interest to a new level by helping Colorado be one of the first states to make workplace suicide prevention a health and safety priority for all State employees. For her leadership, perseverance and collaborative spirit, Wood will be honored as the Carson J Spencer Foundation’s (CJSF) volunteer of the year on August 24th, 2014 at 5:30pm at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. During this event CJSF will celebrate its 10th Annual Shining Lights of Hope Gala, a “blacktie optional” occasion. For more information visit:

As a long-time supporter of CJSF and their pioneering suicide prevention program Working Minds, Wood has advocated for many opportunities to integrate important awareness raising and training opportunities for different State professionals and through the Colorado EAP Association. She noticed early on that many State employees and their family members were experiencing suicidal intensity and loss, and made it her priority to better prepare State employees to prevent these tragedies and to respond with compassion should suicide occur.

Randi and Scott
Within her work with the State, Wood has been tireless in her effort to elevate the conversation about these difficult topics. She coordinated statewide campaigns for World Suicide Prevention Day/National Suicide Prevention Week including a proclamation and letter from the Governor that was sent to all employees and a number of activities promoting mental health and resources for suicide prevention. Additionally, she has helped establish a robust partnership among C-SEAP, the Department of Corrections and CJSF to train all employees on how best to identify a co-worker in distress and link him or her to qualified care.

As a member of CJSF’s Working Minds Advisory Board since its inception, Wood has helped provide strategic direction for workplace suicide prevention efforts, helping to expand the program to its current national and international reach.

“Randi is a true champion,” said Sally Spencer-Thomas, CEO & Co-Founder of the Carson J Spencer Foundation. “She understands that real change comes from a gentle and persistent insistence that everyone can play a role in suicide prevention and that when we are able to confront these issues head on at all levels of State government, we can save lives.”

New Video Provides Guidance to our Nation’s Police Departments to Make Suicide a Health and Safety Priority

New Video Provides Guidance to our Nation’s
Police Departments to Make Suicide a Health and Safety Priority 
International Association of Chiefs of Police President Makes a Call to Action

Det. Chief Quinones
Yost Zakhary
Denver, CO – The Carson J Spencer Foundation, in partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and the American Association of Suicidology, launched a new video today entitled Breaking the Silence: Suicide Prevention in Law Enforcement, making a clear call to action to Police Chiefs around the world to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. Access video here: .

The video was produced by the Carson J Spencer Foundation, a Denver-based nonprofit leading innovation in suicide prevention, and was supported financially by the Kenosha Police Department. Additional support was provided by the Denver Police Department and police psychologists from Nicoletti-Flater Associates.

Chief Morrissey
“The tough-guy culture in law enforcement certainly makes for psychological hearty police officers, but when people are overwhelmed by trauma, loss, or a break with mental illness, this tough exterior can prevent the officer from reaching out and getting some much needed support and treatment,” said Sally Spencer-Thomas, CEO and Co-Founder of the Carson J Spencer Foundation and producer of the video.
Denver Police Department
Chaplain Dr. Jackson Pope

The video features real police officers, many from Kenosha and Denver police departments, who describe their struggles in coping with challenges of law enforcement and their own experiences with suicide.

 “Our jobs, as law enforcement officers, often place us in the middle of highly traumatic situations and this can cause a lot increased emotional stress and trauma for officers”, said IACP’s President, Chief Yousry “Yost” Zakhary (City of Woodway, Texas). “In addition to making sure our officers are physically safe, we also need to make sure they are psychological safety.”

Kenosha Police Department
Sgt. Aaron Dillhoff
“Law Enforcement officers are the first line of defense in protecting our towns, cities and communities.  We must be vigilant in helping them to protect their own health,” said Doryn Chervin, Dr.P.H., Executive Secretary of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and Vice President and Senior Scientist in the Education Development Center, Inc.’s Health and Human Development Division. “The Law Enforcement community and its leaders are taking proactive measures to mitigate the risk of suicide and openly address mental health as a core element of officer safety.  The video, Breaking the Silence, brings forth courageous stories of police officers openly discussing their own mental health challenges and why seeking mental health support fosters resiliency and overall wellness.” 

Det. Sprague
"The American Association of Suicidology is proud to be affiliated with this campaign to raise awareness of suicide risk and decrease stigma associated with mental health treating-seeking among those serving in our police force,” said Michelle Cornette, Executive Director for AAS. “We acknowledge the significant potential for trauma exposure in this line of work and strongly encourage treatment-seeking among those experiencing mental health sequelae."

Officer Albrecht
“As a law enforcement officer for 30 plus years, the last eight as a chief, I assure you the care for officers' mental and emotional health must be equivalent to that of their safety and physical health. Use this video to start the conversation. Silence only compounds the problem,” said Kenosha Police Chief John Morrissey, member of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force.

Breaking the Silence: Suicide Prevention in Law Enforcement Video: .

The American Association of Suicidology (AAS; a membership organization founded in 1968 for all those involved in suicide prevention and intervention or touched by suicide. AAS leads the advancement of scientific and programmatic efforts in suicide prevention through research, education and training, the development of standards and resources, and survivor support services.
Contact: Michelle Cornette, Executive Director, 202-237-2280,

The Carson J Spencer Foundation ( is a Colorado nonprofit, established in 2005. We envision a world where leaders and communities are committed to sustaining a passion for living. We elevate the conversation to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. We sustain a passion for living by:
·         Delivering innovative and effective suicide prevention programs for working-aged people.
·         Coaching young leaders to develop social enterprises for mental health promotion and suicide prevention.
·         Supporting people bereaved by suicide.
Contact: Sally Spencer-Thomas, PsyD, CEO & Co-Founder, 720-244-6535,

International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
Kenosha Police Department
IACP President Zakhary
The IACP is the world’s largest association of law enforcement executives. Founded in 1893, the IACP has over 21,000 members in 100 countries around the world. The IACP’s mission is to advance professional police services; promote enhanced administrative, technical, and operational police practices; and foster cooperation and the exchange of information and experience among police leaders and police organizations of recognized professional and technical standing throughout the world. Additionally, the IACP champions the recruitment and training of qualified persons in the police profession and encourages all police personnel worldwide to achieve and maintain the highest standards of ethics, integrity, community interaction and professional conduct. For more information on the IACP, please visit
Contact: Yost Zackary, President and Vince Talucci 

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention ( is the public-private partnership working to advance the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and make suicide prevention a national priority. Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) operates the Secretariat for the Action Alliance, which was launched in 2010 by former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates with the goal of saving 20,000 lives in five years.
Contact: Eileen Sexton, Director of Communications, 202-572-5383,

Finding Peace without All the Pieces

Finding Peace without All the Pieces
Local Author Presents on Grief after Suicide

Denver, Colorado. August 1, 2014.  When people lose a loved one to suicide they often feel like the mosaic of their life has been shattered and that they are unable to put the pieces together. Colorado author, LaRita Archibald knows about this because she has been there. She lost her son to suicide in 1978 and has been a national pioneer in the suicide bereavement movement ever since. Recently she published a book intended to help “suicide loss survivors” find their way on the challenging journey from trauma to healing to eventual peace. She will be presenting to others who have been touched by suicide and those who support them on August 13th at 9:30am at the Mental Health Center of Denver (4141 E Dickenson Place
Denver, CO 80222). The presentation is free and open to the public.

In 1980 Archibald founded HEARTBEAT, one of the first support groups for suicide bereaved. Presently there are 42 chapters HEARTBEAT Chapters in 11 states and 2 foreign countries. She has also been instrumental in giving suicide loss survivors a voice after founding the Survivor of Loss Division of the American Association of Suicidology, an international multi-disciplinary membership organization with a mission to better understand and prevent suicide.

From decades of work with suicide bereaved, Archibald brings wisdom to help survivors of suicide loss build an understanding of the complexities of suicide grief. She offers them reassurance that what they are experiencing is normal for what they have experienced.  By giving names to the unsettling experiences of 'phantom pain' and 'flashbacks,' she validates feelings of anger, responsibility, frustration, even relief, as well as the need to search for answers, reasons and cause. In her presentation LaRita suggests practical strategies for moving from being a victim to a survivor, and eventually, a "thriver.”

"Grief following suicide is compounded,” says Archibald. “This lonely, frightening and extremely painful grief journey is eased within suicide bereavement support groups where peers extend the comfort of "you are not alone", the reinforcement that suicide loss is survivable and encouragement to invest their heartbreak in positive action."

This presentation is part of an educational series supported by the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado. All Educational Sessions are free and open to the public. For more information go to or email Sally Spencer-Thomas ( For more information about the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado, visit, or call 720-352-7505.

About the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado: The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado (SPCC) was formed in 1999, when concerned citizens set out to create a statewide agency with the purpose of preventing suicide and creating a resource network for those who were working to prevent suicide around the state. Today, SPCC’s membership of concerned agencies, organizations and individuals who are working in the areas of suicide prevention, intervention and postvention has statewide reach. The mission of the SPCC is to reduce suicide and its impact for all Coloradans through advocacy, collaboration and education.

10th Annual Shining Lights of Hope Gala for Suicide Prevention

10th Annual Shining Lights of Hope Gala for Suicide Prevention
Diamond Anniversary Event Celebrates Local and National Leadership

Denver, Colorado. August 4, 2014.  Ten years ago the founders of the Carson J Spencer Foundation (CJSF) had a dream: to elevate the conversation and make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. They began with not much more than a passion to prevent what happened to their beloved friend and family member from happening to others. Today, with a national reach through programs like Man Therapy (using humor to “man up” mental health), Working Minds (suicide prevention in the workplace) and the FIRE Within (youth entrepreneurs preventing suicide), they are known as leaders in innovation in suicide prevention. On August 24th, 2014 at 5:30pm at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science CJSF will celebrate the 10th Annual Shining Lights of Hope Gala. At this “blacktie optional” event, they will honor the partnerships and leaders working with them on the mission to save lives. For more information visit:

Each year, CJSF celebrates those who have gone above and beyond in their effort to support the cause of suicide prevention and mental health promotion. This year, CJSF will bestow the following awards at their Gala:
·         Shining Light of Hope Award: John Fielder, Nature Photographer
·         Media All-Star: Facebook
·         Volunteer of the Year: Randi Wood, Director of the Colorado State Employee Assistance Program
·         Corporate Shooting Star: Cottrell Printing
·         Social Enterprises of the Year:
o   Mountain Vista High School
o   George Washington High School

The Honorary Chair for the Gala is Larissa Herda, CEO and Chairman of tw telecom; tw telecom is also the Presenting Sponsor. Cynthia James will Emcee and Debbie Stafford will be the auctioneer.

“We are thrilled to have such great support present with us to acknowledge this important milestone and congratulate our honorees,” said Board Co-President Christy Belz.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Who Is Dequincy Lezine?

An Interview with the New Director of Division of Suicide Attempt Survivors and People with Lived Experience
Reposted with permission by the American Association for Suicide Prevention
Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D.
CEO & Co-Founder, Carson J Spencer Foundation
Survivor (of Suicide Loss) Division Director

DeQuincy Lezine, Ph.D.
President & CEO
Prevention Communities
Survivor of Suicide Attempt Division Director

Congratulations goes out to DeQuincy Lezine for being appointed as the first Division Director of the Suicide Attempt Survivors/Lived Experience Division. The membership is very excited to get to know him and understand his vision for how he might collaborate with other divisions to advance the field of suicide prevention. For these reasons, I enthusiastically interviewed him to better introduce him to the membership.

Sally: Who is DeQuincy Lezine?

DeQuincy: I grew up in Los Angeles, CA and got scholarship support to pursue a dual-degree in computer science and visual arts at Brown University, with the intent of going into computer animation. I eventually switched to being a psychology major, but continued my interest in graphic arts throughout college. Many people know that I formed one of the first mental health and suicide prevention student clubs. Very few know that I founded a second club promoting graphic arts. I also maintained my love for computers and technology, and have built several computers “from the ground up” including my current desktop. A guilty pleasure? I am a chocoholic, which is not so hidden, and generally have a love for desserts. I have two beautiful children – Benjamin (4 years old) and Nina (2 years old) who both challenge me and keep me going. Finally I’ll add that I like to learn - from natural history to microeconomics to carpentry to public health and policy. However, what I really enjoy is teaching, and have since mentored or tutored other students in high school. Applying knowledge to solve problems or make discoveries, and helping to inform others are true passions for me.

Sally: Tell us more about how you got to be a pioneer in the Suicide Attempt Survivor Movement. How did it start, what were the turning points in your journey? Mentors? Influential experiences?

DeQuincy: I got started in suicide prevention as a first-year student in college, after my first suicide attempt, by contacting the Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network (SPAN USA). I just didn’t find any other attempt survivors in the national suicide prevention movement. A number of groups were missing. There were few African-Americans involved, especially men. In fact, my first television interview was for a CNN special on African-American male suicide. There was also an age gap where prevention for young adults and college students was largely missing – because the focus was either on high school or adults. I thought that if people planning suicide prevention programs were going to be talking about those groups and trying to reach them, then it made sense to have someone from those groups at the table. I didn’t necessarily want that to be me, by the way.

Jerry and Elsie Weyrauch practically adopted me, so the time I spent with their daughter Susan was like time with a sister. Jerry and Elsie even attended my wedding. Suicide loss survivors were like family and that’s who I spent the most time with during SPAN USA events. I can still recall touring the national monuments in Washington with other advocates, and Sandy Martin suggesting the idea of “memory quilts” to put human faces to the stories of suicide. People like Dese’Rae Stage (Live Through This) are doing digital versions of that idea for attempt survivors now.

The most influential experience for me was being part of the Expert Panel at the Reno, Nevada SPAN National Suicide Prevention Conference. I was happy to be part of the Steering Committee that developed the conference, and met Kay Jamison there, who helped mentor me for years afterward. However, the idea that a young suicide attempt survivor could be seen as a valuable part of a very small group of experts that would shape the first national strategy was humbling. The experience itself, while extremely tiring given the long hours that we worked in a small hotel conference room, was transformative. It was probably the event that most anchored me in this field. I still recall Mort Silverman, in his introduction of the panel, describing as me as a representative of “the future of suicide prevention.” At the end of college, the memory of the Reno Conference was pivotal in deciding between a career in mental health advocacy or suicide prevention research.

Sally: What is your vision for the new Division? What do you anticipate are the greatest opportunities and challenges?

DeQuincy: I would like to see the new Division provide a way to bridge the gap between attempt survivors and suicide prevention professionals. Having experience on “both sides of the table” I know that there is much that can be learned on all sides. There is a growing attempt survivor movement that can bring energy, hope, insight, and practical ideas into the clinical, prevention, and research worlds where AAS plays a leading international role. People who have personal experience with suicide, mental health challenges, and/or substance abuse issues remind professionals about goals and priorities. I think it helps to have people like me in the room to say “That’s all well and good, but my brothers and sisters are dying out there. How is this going to help them?” On the other side, it is important to bring ideas about collaborative care, true safety planning, therapy specifically focused on suicidal experiences, and new understanding of what helps or harms into the community. The Division holds the potential for helping to get some of those ideas out into “the real world.”

The challenges are rooted in the difficulty that any new effort faces within an established arena, along with deeply rooted negative perceptions, bias, and stigma. It will be difficult in some circles, to establish the Division as an important contributor to the mission of AAS and suicide prevention as whole. In general, wisdom from personal experience is often considered less valid than information gleaned from scientific methods and statistical calculations. For a long time suicide attempt survivors were patients and research subjects, misunderstood and anxiety-provoking in their potential deaths, and closely associated with possible liability or litigation. On the other side, negative experiences with clinicians and researchers using physical restraints, seclusion practices, forced or coerced hospitalization and medication, debilitating side effects, dismissive or demeaning attitudes, and criminalization haunt some people who have lived through suicidal times. There are, at times well-founded, adversarial views and suspicions on both sides. It is a challenge to switch from those perspectives to seeing each other as colleagues or partners. I think we can overcome those challenges, but it will take patience and persistence.

Sally: How do you anticipate collaborating with suicide loss survivors?

DeQuincy: As I mentioned earlier, I have a long history of working alongside loss survivors. Everyone who has been personally touched by a suicidal crisis, either their own or the experience of someone close to them, has a unique view of this topic. Everyone who chooses to work in suicide prevention has a chance to gain scientific, clinical, or public health expertise through formal education. However, some types of perspective and knowledge are only acquired through the terror of being intimately involved in a suicidal crisis. There is a difference between choosing an area of interest and being thrown into it with an unexpected and traumatic occurrence. Almost every time I have had a chance to talk to a loss survivor in depth about the person(s) that they have lost I have felt a connection to that person. To know the ups and downs, the hopes and challenges, the triumphs and terrors of that person is to know a peer who I will never be able to meet in person. The specific type of experience differs between attempt survivors and loss survivors, but the ability to check “book knowledge” against personal experience is shared. With that recognition I think there are many projects that the two survivor groups could work on together.

Sally: What are your thoughts around the terminology of “survivor” and inclusion of the concept of “lived experience”?

DeQuincy: Every term lacks something and leaves one with the feeling that his or her entire experience cannot be adequately captured in a few words. The only ones who live past a suicide death are the people who are left to grieve the loss of a person afterward. The ones who survive a suicidal crisis are the ones who personally endured it. Reducing one or the other to “survivor” is an injustice because it doesn’t say what the person has survived. It would be like me saying simply that I have a Ph.D. Most people would immediately ask, “A Ph.D. in what?” To me, saying “suicide attempt survivor” and “suicide loss survivor” are more descriptive and specific terms that say someone has lived past a life-threatening event, and how he or she was connected to that event.

I do realize that I enjoy writing, and being particular about words and meanings. It is why I recently switched from focusing on the single “suicide attempt” or “suicide” to the “crisis,” which can be a longer period and may encompass thoughts, feelings, actions, temporary recovery, and ambivalence. “Crisis” is also an imperfect term, but the concept of acknowledging difficulties before and after an event is appealing to me.

“Lived experience” can mean many things, which is both a benefit and a drawback. It is beneficial for coalition building because it can be inclusive of a wide-range of suicidal experiences to join an effort. For example, it can be said that loss survivors also have lived through the suicidal crisis. Beyond this, it helps connect people in suicide prevention with leaders and authors in mental health recovery and advocacy, who regularly use the term “lived experience.” However, the more scientific / clinical side of me feels that the term is too broad. I think that having the division name reflect both specific and broad terminology helps strike a balance between the two.

Sally: How can members get involved in your mission?

DeQuincy: Over the years a fair number of suicide loss survivors have disclosed their personal suicidal crises. That should not be surprising of course. We know that suicidal behavior runs in families. We know that suicidal people often have suicidal friends. We also know that a suicide attempt or suicide can be a catalyst for suicidal behavior in some who are already at risk. We have come far as a field, but telling others that you are a suicide loss survivor still takes courage. Telling others that you have experienced a suicidal crisis yourself requires even more nerve. However, even if you choose not to disclose, you can get involved in our mission by joining / adding the Attempt Survivor / Lived Experience Division as an interest.

One of the projects that Franklin Cook and I have been working on (in our laughable “spare time”) is clearly defining the shared vision of developing and valuing peer support in suicide prevention. Inclusion of both loss survivor and attempt survivor voices in many spheres depends on having professionals consider personal experience as a valid source of knowledge and/or expertise. Even within academia there is contention about how to value qualitative research which emphasizes information that comes from “just” talking to people. This is a critical point. Suicide loss survivors and suicide attempt survivors are the groups that have the largest proportion of members who pay dues and conference expenses without any organizational support. Many pay out of limited incomes. They regularly serve unpaid on Boards and Committees and projects. If our collective voices are valued and we want to recruit more members with that experiential wisdom, then that valuation should be shown through pay for services and/or discounted dues and conference fees.

Sally: Anything else you’d like to tell us?

DeQuincy: As Chair of the new division I offer thanks to everyone who supported the formation of our division, and I am looking forward to exploring the huge potential for collaboration between the two divisions. I would also like to offer a personal “thank you” to all of the suicide loss survivors who have become like family to me over what is nearly two decades of working together.

About DeQuincy Lezine: DeQuincy Lezine, PhD, has been active in national suicide prevention efforts since 1996, including roles in the development of national and state suicide prevention plans. He is the author of Eight Stories Up (Oxford University Press) and the primary author for The Way Forward (Suicide Attempt Survivor Task Force). He can be reached at:

About Sally Spencer-Thomas:  As a psychologist, mental health advocate, and survivor of her brother’s suicide, Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D., sees suicide prevention, intervention and postvention from many perspectives. She is currently the Survivor (of Suicide Loss) Division Director for AAS and CEO for the Carson J Spencer Foundation ( | 720-244-6535.

Working-Aged Men and Suicide Prevention: A Focus during Men’s Health Week

Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D., Carson J Spencer Foundation & National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

Around the world, men of working age carry the burden of suicide. In the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death for men ages 25-54. Additionally, men take their own lives at four times the rate of women. Because just about all of these men are working, were recently working, or have family members who are working, the workplace is a prime system to make suicide a health and safety priority. This week “Men’s Health Week” is celebrated internationally – here are some ways business leaders can help tie in messaging about mental health to help create a resilient workforce.
Men's Health Week advocates that the best way to improve male health is to tackle the most important health issues relevant to men, and mental health plays a big role in men’s overall health. As workplace leaders, we should investigate how job stress and workplace environments contribute to or protect from mental health challenges.

According to a groundbreaking and provocative book by internationally renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Thomas Joiner called “Lonely at the Top,” men appear to enjoy many advantages in society that should give them protection from mental health challenges, but often do not. On average men of working age have greater incomes, more power, and experience a greater degree of social freedom than women or males at other times of the lifespan. However, many men pay a high price for the pursuit of all that success. Too often men take family and friends for granted in the chase for top rank and ambitious goals and find themselves alone when hard times hit.  As a result, many turn to maladaptive coping like prescription drug and alcohol abuse, affairs and other forms of self-destruction which in turn can fuel cycles of increasing depression and anxiety.

As one book reviewer states, “if there is one thing we know it’s that whatever society rewards is what you will see more of. Have you seen Forbes list of the 500 foremost people who provide love, friendship, support, and laughter in the world? Nope.”

In the never ending chase to bigger, better, more, business leaders often encourage this damaging pattern and many top performers end up burning out or worse. Instead, by encouraging wellness and relationships, leaders can help their talent keep up the levels of productivity so necessary in the long term.

Resources for men’s mental health are few and many are ineffective because many men don’t find them relevant. Recently a new innovative resource has emerged that give men an opportunity to understand their distress in new ways; self-assess for levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and anger; and create a blueprint for change. This tool – called “Man Therapy” ( uses humor to cut through social barriers and get men talking, thinking and supporting each other when stress becomes unmanageable.

What can workplaces do?

  • Promote the Man Therapy program through newsletters, social media and more. Several compelling videos can help with this, and they can be found here:
  • Train employees on how best to identify people in emerging distress and link them to qualified help before the situation becomes overwhelming. For more information:
  • Host lunch-and-learn brown bag presentations on mental health topics as part of your overall wellness program.
  • Audit policies to see if yours is a “mentally health workplace” – more here:
  • Provide tools to help employees screen themselves (e.g., “Workplace Response”) for mental health conditions:
  • Find ways to reward emotional intelligence, mental wellness, and community service to help create belongingness and meaningful purpose at work.
  • Take time this week to focus on men’s mental health during “Men’s Health Week” – it might not only improve morale and productivity at work, it might just save some lives.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Coming Together on Suicide

Re-Published with permission from The Boston Globe
Written by Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas

Somewhere, a myth emerged that survivors of suicide loss and suicide attempt survivors couldn’t work together. That their stories would be too upsetting to one another. Survivors of loss would be plagued by the idea that their loved one died while others lived. Survivors of attempts would be triggered by the trauma and grief that comes from loss.
As an executive board member of the American Association of Suicidology, and as a survivor of suicide loss, I have to say that quite the opposite is usually the case.
Personally, I have found the stories of survival exceptionally inspiring. My brother Carson, a highly successful entrepreneur and business leader, died by suicide after a difficult battle with bipolar illness. Ultimately, I believe that the stigma of his mental illness killed him more than the illness itself. I know in my heart that if Carson had heard these stories of resilience and persistence, especially coming from a person with whom he could identify, he would’ve felt less shame and more hope.
Patrick Corrigan of the Center for Dignity, Recovery and Empowerment has conducted research about suicide attempt survivors that supports this. Coming into contact with people with a stigmatized condition is the best way to eliminate stigma.
I have become friends and colleagues of several “out” attempt survivors through my work, and my experience with their public emergence has been soul-moving. Being involved in the suicide attempt survivors movement is the most important thing I have been involved in, ever.
In March, I was honored to be part of the historic National Summit on Lived Experience in Suicide Prevention in San Francisco. Leaders from all over the United States convened, including the federal government’s top suicide prevention official, to hear attempt survivors tell heartbreaking stories of injustice, discrimination and punishment.
All of us were there to find positive ways to transform our mental health system, promote recovery and dignity, and dismantle the fear divide between mental health providers and people who’ve been suicidal. It was probably the most inspiring professional experience I have ever had.
These experiences have transformed me. While I have always seen myself as an ally, more recently I have been much more of an ally in action.
I had an “aha” moment last fall when I saw barriers that might have prevented this historic new AAS division for attempt survivors from passing. I thought, “Wow, someone needs to do something here.” And then it dawned on me: “Oh! It’s me.”
Today, we are celebrating a historic moment in our movement. This new division within AAS will allow suicide attempt survivors and those who support them to take an official seat at the table, enriching the field with more ethical and meaningful treatment, support, research and advocacy.
Let’s take a moment to celebrate this milestone together.
Survivors of loss like myself often find tremendous meaning in working in suicide prevention and can align well with the growing advocacy work by many suicide attempt survivors.
In turn, suicide attempt survivors can benefit from partnering with suicide loss survivors because, in many ways, we are on the same path. We start out feeling alone. Then we find out there are many others like us. We connect. We organize. We find our voice and create social change.
Suicide loss survivors have a bit of a head start in doing this, so we can stand in solidarity with suicide attempt survivors and strengthen their message.
I believe that together, we’re better.

To view the article: Click Here!

Dear Parents, from Teens book the First of Its Kind

Dear Parents, from Teens book the First of Its Kind
Written by teenagers for parents to prevent suicide

Lakewood, Colorado – May 19, 2013. Over the past two years students at Green Mountain High School have investigated innovative ways to get upstream from teen suicide and prevent crises from happening in the first place. As part of the FIRE Within program, a year-long curriculum teaching students to use the tools of social enterprise to address root causes of distress, these students made an important discovery. When they conducted their needs assessment of the issues related to youth despair, they found that depression and isolation were common experiences and that the teens were reaching out to their parents for support. They also found that the parents were sometimes messing it up. So, they decided to write a guidebook for parents to help improve parent-teen communication. For more information:

This month, the Green Mountain High School Business Leadership class students announce the publication of their book “Dear Parents, from Teens: Everything You Need to Know about Parent-Teen Communication”.  Student-written chapters include such topics as Transitions, Positivity, Acceptance, Peer Pressure, Money Issues, Bullying, Coping, Family, Relationships, Emotional Health, and Suicide Prevention.  Each chapter begins with a letter written by a teen to parents, followed by statistics, advice from teens, and resources.  The Business Leadership students partnered with the Carson J Spencer Foundation and the Jefferson Center for Mental Health in writing the book.  Books are on sale now for $15 each with the proceeds going back into the program and printing of the book.

Overview YouTube video here:

Van Davis, Business teacher said, “Recently the students hosted a parent workshop to share the book and provided an opportunity for parents to sit down with teens to answer questions and talk about parenting concerns.”  Other workshops are being planned for the fall of 2014. 

Principal, Colleen Owens stated “Our students in grades ten through twelve have spent two years writing this book.  They have poured their hearts into making it relevant for parents today.  We are very proud of this accomplishment”                      

About Green Mountain High School
Green Mountain High School is a premier comprehensive Jeffco high school where students, staff, parents, and community experience:
  • Rigorous academics: core, elective, Advanced Placement, and honors courses.
  • Academic Academy Pathways: valuable experiences through 4 Academies and  15 Pathways leading to multiple post-secondary opportunities.
§  Arts, Humanities & Performance
§  Business & Global Studies
§  Health & Human Services
§  Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM)

  • Strong community of positive interactions, a caring culture, and strong relationships among all stakeholders. 

Monday, April 21, 2014


By Guest Blogger: Franklin Cook

recent survey of men bereaved by suicide suggests that:

• Suicide bereavement is profound and sustained for men, with 30% reporting that grief remained a constant difficulty in their lives one to three years after their loss and another 30% saying that it was a constant difficulty for longer than three years.
• Men believe friends, family, and peers (others who have experienced a loss to suicide) are the most helpful.
• Peer assistance and one-on-one help are especially valued by men, who also say they rely on information from the Internet for assistance.
• Most men believe men and women grief differently, and plenty of men fit the stereotypes commonly associated with men's handling of emotional matters.
• Many men, on the other hand, believe that stereotypes get in the way of healthy grieving and that societal influences hamper men's grieving.
• Many also see bereavement as very individualistic, reporting that they are as emotionally expressive about their grief as women are.
• Men are interested in being peer helpers for other bereaved men, especially if they are far enough along in their own grief and are trained and supported.

This last finding -- that many men are willing to help each other with grief after suicide -- is of utmost importance, for men themselves likely hold the keys to their own recovery.

Unified Community Solutions (my private consultancy) and the Carson J Spencer Foundation (Sally Spencer-Thomas's nonprofit organization) distributed the survey to help us explore developing more-effective programs and resources for suicide bereaved men. We are hopeful that by this summer, we'll have an idea about how we might begin making new inroads into supporting men bereaved by suicide.

Please see the copy of the slides from the presentation on the survey that Sally and I (and Rick Mogil, who directs suicide grief programs for the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center) delivered at the American Association of Suicidology conference in Los Angeles last Saturday.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Colorado-Based Entrepreneurial Suicide Prevention Initiative Launches National Expansion

Denver, Colorado.  March 28, 2014.  While the majority of suicide deaths occur in working aged adults, the journey often begins in youth with suicidal thoughts and suicidal behavior. When a teen dies by or attempts, the impact is devastating and long-standing, and the ripple effects on family, friends, schools and communities profound. For these reasons, the 
Carson J Spencer Foundation takes an “upstream” approach to this challenging public health issue with its FIRE Within program. The FIRE Within program, a partnership among the Carson J Spencer Foundation, the Second Wind Fund and Junior Achievement, is a teen leadership initiative that engages high school students to use entrepreneurial strategies to alleviate root causes to student distress. In other words, students create an innovative business that raises both money and awareness for suicide prevention and mental health promotion. With a significant investment from the Adolph Coors Foundation, the program expanded from three to 50 schools in Colorado from 2011-2014. In 2012, the Carson J Spencer Foundation received additional funding from the Manhattan-based Ittleson Foundation to scale the program nationally. During 2013, the Carson J Spencer Foundation hosted multiple Executive Roundtable sessions around the country to gauge community interest in the program and narrowed down the pool of possible locations to eight sites. After a six-month feasibility study, the Carson J Spencer Foundation announces today that the pilot effort for the national expansion will include testing the program’s viability in New York City, San Francisco, and Massachusetts starting September 2014.

For more information on the FIRE Within visit:

To achieve this pilot effort, the Carson J Spencer Foundation is collaborating with the Mental Health Association of New York City (MHA-NYC), the Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF), Riverside Trauma Center (Massachusetts), and the Cape and Islands Youth Suicide Prevention Project (Massachusetts). Each of these “hub partners” will implement the FIRE Within program in three or more schools when the school year begins next fall.

“MHA-NYC is proud to be a part of the national launch of the FIRE Within program, an innovative and effective social entrepreneurship approach to educating and supporting young people to address suicide prevention in their communities,” said Lisa Furst, Director of Public Education, MHA-NYC.

“The Mental Health Association of San Francisco is thrilled to be partnering with the Carson J Spencer Foundation on the first implementation of FIRE Within in California,” said Eduardo Vega, Executive Director of MHASF. “Diverse metropolitan communities like ours that are challenged by youth suicide need solutions that actively engage youth and empower them by putting them in the driver's seat to make an impact on their peers. The unique entrepreneurial approach of the FIRE Within develops leadership and creativity while it engages young people to support each other, to work as change agents in nontraditional ways, and to challenge stigma associated with mental health conditions.”

Over the full academic year, the FIRE Within program gives students the opportunity to understand firsthand how business can positively impact a community. They learn about innovation and business skills, they build capacity for suicide prevention and mental health promotion, they use needs assessment tools to uncover the root causes of student suffering, and then they put it all together and launch a business that generates profit while alleviating the drivers of distress.

“Riverside Trauma Center is extremely excited about collaborating with the Carson J Spencer Foundation on the FIRE Within program,” says Larry Berkowitz, Director of the Riverside Trauma Center. “This ‘outside the box’ approach to youth suicide prevention builds leadership skills, connects local businesses with the young people in their communities, and promotes recovery. This creative program will support Riverside’s efforts to reduce the impact of suicide and suicidal behaviors among youth in Massachusetts.”

Maura Weir, Coordinator for the Cape and Islands Youth Suicide Prevention Project of the Community Health Center of Cape Cod adds, “The decision to partner with the Carson J Spencer Foundation was made because of their great leadership and because the FIRE Within is a dynamic program created for young people to get involved with a very worthy cause.  Suicide prevention is everyone’s business and this program will provide a strategy to do this with high school aged youth.” 

For more information about how your community can get involved with the FIRE Within contact Sally Spencer-Thomas or visit or


About the Carson J Spencer Foundation - Sustaining a Passion for Living
The Carson J Spencer Foundation ( is a Colorado nonprofit, established in 2005.  We envision a world where leaders and communities are committed to sustaining a passion for living. We sustain a passion for living by:
  • Delivering innovative and effective suicide prevention programs for working-aged people
  • Coaching young leaders to develop social enterprises for mental health promotion and suicide prevention
  • Supporting people bereaved by suicide

The Carson J Spencer Foundation is the proud 2013 recipient of the “Small Nonprofit of the Year” award from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

A Historic Moment in Suicide Prevention: Summit on Lived Experience

Reposted with permission from the American Association of Suicidology

On March 6, 2014, a historic moment occurred in San Francisco. The first ever National Summit on Lived Experience in Suicide Prevention convened – suicide attempts survivors, suicide loss survivors and people representing mental health service systems came together to explore how we can “light the way forward.”

The meeting was hosted by the Mental Health Association of San Francisco with support from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (“Action Alliance”) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL). The goal of the meeting was to open up an open and honest conversation about how best to move the goals of the Action Alliance’s Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force and Zero Suicide Initiative forward with coordination and compassion.

The meeting began with Dr. DeQuincy Lezine sharing an overview of the Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force soon-to-be released guide for how the suicide prevention field can best incorporate the “lived expertise” of those who have survived their own suicide attempts. 

The guide underscores the importance of real-world wisdom that people gain through surviving and can share with others to guide best practices in research, treatment and prevention efforts. A main message of the document is to include attempt survivors in all areas of suicide prevention – as leaders and in critical masses. In addition to covering key policy, practice and program suggestions, Dr. Lezine described the core values of the task force:
  • Inspire Hope, find meaning and purpose
  • Preserve dignity, counter stigma, stereotypes discrimination
  • Connect people to peer supports
  • Promote community connectedness
  • Engage and support family and friends
  • Respect and support cultural spiritual beliefs and traditions
  • Promote choice and collaboration
  • Provide timely access to care and support
Next David Covington from the Zero Suicide Initiative shared the concept and practices of this high priority focus of the Action Alliance. The Zero Suicide Initiative is a “commitment to suicide prevention in health and behavioral healthcare systems aligned with a specific set of tools and strategies. It advocates for a systematic approach to improve outcomes and fill gaps to relentlessly pursue a reduction in suicide death and calls for visible, vocal and visionary leadership. Additionally, the initiative strives to develop of a competent, confident and caring workforce within behavioral health.

“We believe that suicide is preventable always, up to the last minute,” said Covington. “Let’s create a suicide deterrent system.”

Most of the conversation over the course of the day centered on how these two groups could reduce the fear each has about the other. Suicide attempt survivors expressed fear about being misunderstood, stigmatized, and punished in many forms when trying to access professional care. Mental health providers have fear about not knowing what to do, about getting sued, and about having someone “die on my watch.”

The dialogue continued through the morning and encouraged both groups to look forward and find ways to improve collaboration and understanding. Here are some moving sound bites:

·       “People need to know they can disclose suicidal thoughts and that they will get help, not get punished,” Shari Sinwelski, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
·       “Every attempt survivor should define the support network for himself or herself.”
·       “Emergency care providers need to improve practices to preserve dignity of people in the middle of a suicide crisis.”
·       “Most clinical care work is focused on assessment of risk; we need to shift this focus to collaborative care,” David Covington
·       “The problem is clinicians don’t feel safe and they don’t know what to do,” Shari Sinwelski
·       “To start with a place of assessment creates disconnection,” Leah Harris, National Empowerment Center
·       “Stop assessing the symptoms. When we do that we are working from a deficit model rather than a strength model. Rather than creating a treatment plan create a hope plan and assess for that. Find out what brings meaning and purpose and create a plan for that,” Tom Kelly, Magellan Health Services of Arizona
·       Tom Kelly, “I haven't had a suicide attempt since 2001. Since then I became an advocate, and I developed meaning and purpose.”
·       “How do we fill the middle gap in services when people are not feeling home provides enough support but don’t need inpatient care? Peer support can fill this gap. Right now the system is insufficient – we just evaluate, medicate, vacate,” CW Tillman, Consumer Advocate
·       “Let’s build a strengths-based approach – rather than ‘what’s wrong with you’ shift to ‘what happened to you.’ Let’s provide trauma informed care. Change some primary assumptions,” Leah Harris.
·       “The concept of Zero Suicide is really transformative. I like the fact that people react so strongly to it,” Eduardo Vega, Mental Health Association of San Francisco. “We can take the outlandish out of the picture by saying our goal is that no one in this building kill themselves today. Then we can expand to ‘can we work to stop suicide in this town this week?’”
·       “The field has talked too much about the difference between suicide attempt survivors and those who die by suicide. The intrapsychic experience is the same,” Covington
·       “Over the decades, individual mental health clinicians have made heroic efforts to save lives but systems of care have done very little,” Richard McKeon, SAMHSA.
·       “People who go through training for suicide prevention get increased confidence and change culture within a system. People become less afraid and are more likely to reach out,” Becky Stoll, Centerstone
·       “Suicide prevention has not been informed by peers who have experienced the agony and decision making. They can provide support that can be magic,” Eduardo Vega.
·       “Suicide attempt survivors should not just be a token presence in the conversation of how to prevent suicide. If have 25% each of researchers, care providers, loved ones at the table, we also need 25% attempt survivors. Critical mass offers meaningful input. Like 32 degrees. Below water freezes, above water is just cold,” David Covington
·       “How do we infuse recovery oriented perspectives – a spirit of optimism – in systems of care?” Leah Harris. “How do we focus on what’s strong rather than what’s wrong?”
·       How do we reframe safety from something that is more about the clinician’s need for assurance to something that’s more about connectedness, hope and meaning?

The meeting concluded with a brainstorming session on key messages to promote the goals of these two groups and how we might best invigorate the field around these goals. The following list of ideas emerged:
·       Establish partnerships and communities of support
·       Move beyond fear to optimism
·       Introduce behavioral health professionals to people’s stories of hope and recovery and show the value, “your experience can help me help other people”
·       How do value peers in suicide prevention work? We can pay them well and identify them as leaders/professionals
·       Let’s move behavioral health systems from precontemplation to contemplation and get them to think about, “Maybe the system doesn’t work”
·       Attempting suicide didn’t destroy my life; it transformed it.
·       Sometimes when things make you angry you pay attention. Language matters.
·       Crisis is an opportunity. If in the middle of a transformative moment you are punished, it stops the process in its tracks.
·       Coercion is system failure.
·       People don’t send you flowers and cards when you are in the hospital for a psychiatric condition.
·       “Continuity of care is really about not giving up on someone,” John Draper, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
·       “When we create system change, don’t bolt it on, bake it in. Change will only last as long as there is energy around something. When it is bolted on it won’t stick; baked in means here to stay,” David Covington
·       Board members and other leaders for behavioral health organizations can act as secret shoppers by visiting behavioral health care as undercover bosses. This experience can be eye opening.

·       Ask suicide attempt survivors, “How can we celebrate your survival?”
·       “I am not a lost cause. I am a person.”

The meeting closed with a round robin discussion of what people were taking away from the Summit. Many tears were shed as people disclosed the momentous opportunity created by the shared understanding that commenced on that day.