Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Daddy Whisperers: Why Dads Need their Kids

The Daddy Whisperers: Why Dads Need their Kids

“Michael” hunched over his paper – partly showing me his responses and partly hiding them. I could see the words “crying, mad, sad” scribbled on the lines where he should’ve been writing the reasons why he loved his Dad. This second grader was participating in a new project called The Daddy Whisperers developed by the Carson J Spencer Foundation (CJSF). The mission of the project is to help protect fathers from feeling isolation and distress by strengthening the bond they have with their kids.

One of the things I learned through my research with men who had been suicidal, but who are now doing well, is the protective power of the fathers’ relationship with their children. Some of these men credited their children for “saving their lives” – whether it was the responsibility Dads felt for their kids or the concern they had about the legacy they would leave should they die by suicide, children factored into the Dads’ decision making process. Because of this, the CJSF staff spent a full day at a local elementary school, working with preschoolers to sixth graders and helping them communicate why they felt their Dad (or other father figure) was special.

We set out to create a Father’s Day project to bolster this bond. Because Mother’s Day falls within the school year, Mothers often receive special school-supported projects that honor motherhood, but fathers, whose special day falls in June, often do not. We adapted the model of PostSecret, a hugely successful viral on-line network where people share their secrets by communicating them in the form of an artistic postcard. For our project, we asked kids to share with us the secret reasons they love their Dads – things they think are really special about their Dad that maybe their Dad doesn’t know about.

So, I asked Michael why he was writing the words “crying, mad, sad” on his Daddy Whisperers worksheet and he told me, “My parents are getting a divorce, and they are not getting along. I see yellow trucks everywhere, and I wonder if they are my Dad coming to see me.”

I told him, “Your parents might not be getting along, but you can still love your Dad. Why don’t you start by drawing a yellow truck?”

Fifteen minutes later he brought his postcard to me. On it was a yellow pick up with a smiling boy in the back. “Can you help me write the words?” he asked.

“You bet,” I said. “What is it you want to say to your Dad?”

“Please write, ‘I love my Dad because he lets me play with him, he is the Wolf Den leader, and I like hanging out with him a lot.’”

I wrote down his messages and patted him on the back, “Good work,” I said.

He nodded and walked away smiling and my heart swelled. I hope his Dad can cherish this too.

To follow additional discoveries from our Daddy Whisperers Project, please follow:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bridging the Divide – Suicide Awareness and Prevention Summit

What is it about the Mountain and Desert regions of the U.S.? Why do our states consistently trade off for top-ten spots of states having the highest suicide rates in the country (minus Alaska)? How can it be that in such beautiful, majestic country, so many people are fighting with such strong urges to die?

About 200 people came together this past week to try to figure it out at the 3rd Annual Bridging the Divide Suicide Awareness and Prevention Summit. Colorado State University hosted this event featuring a diverse selection of five plenary sessions and 18 breakout workshops – topics ranged from:

the Myths about Suicide (Thomas Joiner) to

how pets provide grief support (Linn-Gust) to

• strategies to dovetail fall prevention for older adults with suicide prevention (Guard).

Formats varied from Nancy Rappaport’s dramatic reading of her memoir “In Her Wake” to a panel of five people who turned their tragic struggle with the impact of suicide into passionate advocacy.

As this conference grows in scope and depth, there is evidence that we are changing the course of the devastating trend of suicide loss in our part of the country. As I mentioned in my remarks during the event, we are moving toward a tipping point of change. Change doesn’t happen in a steady fashion; rather it builds slowly and then shifts in an instant. Eco psychologist Joanna Macy equated the change to water becoming ice: “Before the water turns to ice, it looks just the same as before. Then a few crystals form, and suddenly the whole system undergoes cataclysmic change.”

From Net Efekt

Can you feel the crystals forming?


What do you think will help us change the high rates of suicide in our Western regions?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Suicide Prevention in Colorado – Together We Are Better

When suicide makes the news, many of us cringe because the coverage – often sensationalized and overly simplistic – can increase the risk that vulnerable people may act on suicidal thoughts as a result.

Today was different.

Today was a milestone day for the suicide prevention movement in Colorado – our story made the front page of the Denver Post’s Sunday edition, complete with pictures and graphs that demonstrated both the deep need in our state and the exceptional efforts being made to save lives.

Like many of the Rocky Mountain states, Colorado’s suicide rate continues to be high despite the dedicated efforts of many suicide prevention organizations. Kevin Simpson, the Denver Post reporter, spent more than a month collecting information for this article. In this article he highlights the fact that while many are fighting this war against suicide, our resources are continually stripped, making this challenging work even more difficult. By interviewing so many of us who consider ourselves foot soldiers in this battle, he did another important thing – he helped to show how our field is becoming united in our efforts.

As competition for scarce resources increases the risk for internal conflict, suicide prevention groups in Colorado are finding creative ways to collaborate because we know that “together we are better.”

In many ways, Colorado is seen as a leading state in the effort of suicide prevention. Thanks to pioneers like Deanna Rice and others who testified before the state legislature in the 1990s and helped create our Office of Suicide Prevention, we became one of the first states to have an official state strategy for suicide prevention. Other pioneers like LaRita Archibald (founder of HEARTBEAT support groups) and Vivian Epstein (founder of Parents Surviving Suicide) started support groups for families bereaved by suicide long before most people realized the unique challenges of suicide grief. Hotline support has evolved through the steadfast dedication of Eleanor Hamm and others out of our crisis center for decades. And of course, there is the far-reaching work of the Emme family and the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program, whose message lets youth know that “it’s okay to ask for help.”

More recently, we have seen the explosion of the incredibly effective work of Jeff Lamontagne and The Second Wind Fund, who are helping uninsured and underinsured youth at-risk for suicide link to qualified help. Sheila Linwood in Mesa County, Ronna Autrey in Routt County, Dana Lindsay in Larimer County, Nancy Harris in Otero County, Susan Marine in Boulder County and many more – are all finding ways to learn from each other to save lives in Colorado.

"Long's Peak from North, Rocky Mountain National Park," Colorado.
From: U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 79-AA-M16
Photographer: Adams, Ansel, 1902-1984

The reorganization of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado is another piece of evidence of our pulling together. Knowing that our rural communities need as much (perhaps even more) support than the Denver metro efforts, we now use audio and video conferencing technology to engage communities statewide. When we have better knowledge of the strengths of each organization we are much less likely to duplicate efforts.

The 3rd annual Bridging the Divide Suicide Awareness and Prevention Summit (May 20 & 21, 2010 at Colorado State University) is still another example of successful collaboration. For this conference, clinicians, researchers, advocates and those impacted by suicide share knowledge and resources.

The impact of suicide often remains hidden to the world. The fact that we have such few resources to deal with this profound public health tragedy is a moral outrage. Kevin’s article helped shed some light on the deep need in our state and the potential for a different future.

Help those in a position of creating change pay attention – spread the word.


Please take a moment to thank Kevin for his coverage by writing him a note:

To join the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado – CLICK HERE

To register for the “Bridging the Divide Suicide Prevention Summit” – CLICK HERE