Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tensions in Postvention: An International Dialogue Part I

Tensions in Postvention: An International Dialogue Part I
By Sally Spencer-Thomas
In the aftermath of a suicide, several needs are evident —psychological first aid for those most directly affected, help for communities as they return to a level of functioning, and  surveillance for vulnerable individuals who might be harmed by  contagion. The strategies to achieve meeting these needs sometimes come into conflict with one another and create tension in our postvention efforts. Well-meaning and well-informed people can find themselves firmly standing on one side or another of these points of potential disagreement, complicating an already difficult process.
In September this year, I had the honor of facilitating an international discussion on the “Tensions in Postvention” at the International Association of Suicide Prevention’s (IASP) World Congress in Beijing. About two dozen people gathered to join some of the top suicidologists from around the globe as we explored the challenges of supporting individuals, families and communities in the aftermath of a suicide. Among the invited participants were:

·     Karl Andriessen, M.Suicidology, (BELGIUM), Coordinator of the Suicide Prevention Program of the Flemish Mental Health Centres, and Co-Chair of the IASP Taskforce on Suicide Bereavement and Postvention. He is a tireless advocate for the needs of people bereaved by suicide.
·     Prof. Onja Grad, PhD, (SLOVENIA), clinical psychologist who has worked with survivors on a daily basis for the past 22 years — with individuals, families, groups. She is also a teacher at the University of Ljubljana School of Medicine.
·     Myfanwy Maple, PhD, BSW (Honours Degree), (AUSTRALIA), senior Lecturer, Social Work Course Coordinator, School of Health. He is a social work academic and researcher in suicide bereavement over the past decade, particularly examining the experiences of individual family members experience of loss.
·     Sandra Palmer, Ph.D. (NEW ZEALAND), a registered psychologist and Clinical Manager Community Postvention Response Service, and provides support to communities experiencing suicide clusters or contagion. She continually faces the challenge of balancing the need for communities and families to honor the loss of loved ones with safe postvention practices to manage contagion to prevent further losses in the community.
·     John Peters, M.Suicidology (UNITED KINGDOM), lost his son to suicide 19 years ago and has for many years been a volunteer with Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide including staffing their Helpline each week and running peer-led support groups and an annual support day.
·     Diana Sands, PhD, (AUSTRALIA), Director, Bereaved by Suicide Service; has worked with families bereaved by suicide for over twenty years, produced a film and wrote a book for children bereaved by suicide. She will speak to the complex and sensitive issues regarding how to talk with children bereaved by suicide.

During this session we discussed the following questions:

1)   How can we balance the need to prevent contagion with the need to honor loss?
2)   How do we balance getting a familiar sense of normalcy with the acknowledgement of significance to a community that has been deeply affected by a suicide loss?
3)   Do we tell children about suicide or not? When do we tell them? How much information?
4)   What services do we provide – lay led, professionally facilitated or some combination? Knowing that the research indicates the benefits of peer led efforts, how do we manage quality control and sustainability?
5)   How do we safely involve survivors or suicide loss and attempts in research? What are the best protocols for this?

In this column, I will review the discussion of the first two questions, and in the next issue of Newslink I will review the discussion of the last three questions.

How can we balance the need to prevent contagion with the need to honor loss?

As we opened the discussion many participants shared examples of how communities have navigated the balance between what family and close friends want and what is safe for the community. Sandra Palmer talked about how t-shirts printed with pictures of lost loved ones are commonly seen at funerals and memorialization events. She went on to describe how families when told about the potential risk will also print a hotline number or other resource on the t-shirt. I talked about how candle lighting ceremonies are common and how we can help communities make these events safer by coaching the event planners on safe messaging and surrounding the attendees with helpful resources. Jill Fisher of Australia talked about framing a memorial event as a remembrance event celebrating life rather than over-emphasizing the circumstances of a death.
Sandra Palmer: “What we are getting to is about balance.”

Jill Fisher: “We try to do a number of activities to meet a number of needs of the bereaved.”

Onja Grad: “[The response] has to be right away.”

Diane Sands: “Schools are much more careful. Families are more thoughtful and respectful to the community. We can rely on folk to be more thoughtful.”

As in many provocative discussions attendees raised additional questions:

·     How can we be proactive in our efforts with families and communities so they understand the risks?
·     Knowing that it is never anyone’s intention to cause additional harm, how do we explain to families that there is a risk in doing things the way they planned?
·     Many families, including my own, have a huge desire to do prevention work right away, and yet without proper time to grieve and heal sometimes these efforts crash and burn, causing additional hardship. How can we counsel people to heal first and engage in prevention activities later?
·     How do we support people in bereavement when we are not of the grieving family’s culture?
·     How do we promote young people’s safety while giving them the space to grieve in their own way, which often includes very public expressions through social media? For instance, youth sometimes post on their deceased friend’s Facebook page. Sometimes the outpouring reflects their grief at the loss like a public shrine of flowers and stuffed animials might. Others post comments like “you are now in a better place,” thereby romanticizing the death and minimizing the tragedy.

The general consensus of the group was that both honoring loss and preventing contagion are possible. With outreach to new survivors and supportive instruction about preventing contagion, we can allow a safe space for the bereaved to mourn and direct the grief energy so that risk factors for contagion are minimized.

[To watch this Part I of the discussion: ]

How do we balance getting a familiar sense of normalcy with the acknowledgement of significance to a community that has been deeply affected by a suicide loss?

This question revolves around a community response to suicide. We noted that returning to a previous routine can be grounding for many after a trauma; it offers structure and a sense of familiarity. Nevertheless, moving too quickly or too completely to “business as usual” can make those closest to the loss feel discounted.

We also acknowledged that in larger systems and communities there will often be many people who are not affected at all by the death, and if we go in “all guns blazing” we can do harm.

Many cited George Bonanno’s work (Bonanno, 2004) on resiliency after trauma and emphasized the potential strength of the human spirit and the power of communities pulling together after a loss like suicide. The key to finding the right balance revolved around framing the interventions as choices with the understanding that different survivors need different things at different points in their grief journey. Jill Fisher called her approach an invitation of the “lightest touch” so that what we offer won’t interfere with the natural resilience that exists.

As Jill noted, “After a suicide you find police, criminal investigators, medical rescue professionals, coroners — up to 10 people in your home — that you have no right to say ‘no’ to. You are invaded. We want to make sure that the bereavement support is a choice you’ve made.”

The group also explored the reality that not all suicide deaths impact communities in the same way. For instance a school that has been rocked by multiple deaths usually experiences heightened anxiety and fear as rumors escalate. For these communities, “returning to normal” might require more conversations of assurance.

One participant described this particular tension in postvention: “Grief is a natural process, and when you put shutters around it, damage can be done. The bereaved will let you know what they need; our role is to support them.”

While the cultures and languages of this diverse group of experts varied, the themes of the challenges were similar. By sharing lessons learned and stories of success, we forged a solidarity in our efforts to support people bereaved by suicide.


Bonanno, G. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? American Psychologist, 59(1), 20-28.

 Sally Spencer-Thomas is CEO and co-founder, Carson J Spencer Foundation, founded after the suicide of her brother. The foundation is known for preventing suicide in the workplace, coaching youth social entrepreneurs to be the next generation of suicide prevention advocates, and supporting the bereaved. She is AAS Survivor Division Chair.
"Reposted with permission from the American Association for Suicidology" follow this link to see the article in Newslink.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Celebrating Mentally Healthy Workplaces: Colorado Public Television Wins Working Minds Contest

Mental health isn’t something many workplaces consider when thinking about the health of their employees, and yet, distress impacts productivity, retention and morale significantly. We are delighted to honor workplaces in Colorado that take proactive steps to help promote mental health.

Colorado Public Television is 1st place winner of the Working Minds Contest
For more information about our Working Minds Contest and last year's winners, please visit 

In these current economic times, the stress of work can be quite unbearable. With budgets being cut across numerous organizations and businesses, many are concerned about their employment. Colorado Public Television (CPT12, formerly KBDI) has found ways to promote mental health and resiliency during tough times:, shared sacrifice, team-based decision making, and an environment which enhances creativity. Colorado Public Television will be recognized with the grand prize “Working Minds Award” at the Carson J Spencer Foundation’s Shining Lights of Hope Gala on the evening of August 28th at Inifinity Park in Glendale, Colorado

CPT12 is a mission-focused organization with a product that is enjoyable and trusted. The culture of CPT12 fosters creativity, collaboration and risk-taking. Employees throughout the company feel a sense of pride in the quality of the product, and enjoy the intellectual stimulation associated with it.

“I would liken our staff meetings to a Sunday dinner that a family would have,” said Pam Osborne, Director of Marketing & Communications for CPT12. “As a cohesive team, we all feel that we are in this together.”

CPT12 makes it a point to include mental health days, telecommuting and flexible scheduling into its policies. Additionally, the mentally-healthy atmosphere includes pet- and children/family-friendly policies. The approach by management is to help employees feel safe and capable of high-performance. CPT12 welcomes perspectives of staff and viewers of all ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders and backgrounds.

“Our workforce is extremely loyal,” stated Osborne. “I attribute that to the fact that our organization is a creative, ever-evolving, fun place to work.”

CPT12 was awarded the grand prize in the Carson J Spencer Foundation’s Working Minds Contest. In order to win, contestants needed to be workplaces based in Colorado that demonstrated measurable success by implementing innovative and effective mental health policies and procedures.

About Colorado Public Television – CPT12

Every day Colorado Public Television (CPT12), formerly KBDI, sets itself apart with an unparalleled schedule of local, independent, “community voice” public affairs programming and invites its statewide audience to explore new issues, ideas, people and places in the state, nation, and world. CPT12 curates three digital channels including a flagship signal with a mix of local, national, and international programming and infused with quality PBS shows (12.1); CPT12+, the best of independently produced documentaries, music, travel, exercise, cooking, public affairs and more (12.2); and MHz Worldview, providing international news from five continents and diverse cultural perspectives for a globally minded audience (12.3).

Please join us in congratulating all of our winners (runners up were Tu Casa and Jefferson Center for Mental Health) at the Shining Lights of Hope Gala on August 28th at Infinity Park! For more information visit

Sunday, July 31, 2011

GUEST BLOGGER “Smack-A-Mole”: Fighting Off the Job-Search Blues

Packard Brown and Charlie

It is my pleasure to introduce our guest blogger this week. I met Packard Brown after our Manspeak article was published. He was interested in the psychological impact of economic distress for men, and we spent a morning exploring shared interests. Packard is a seminary-trained, proven Career Transition professional with long-standing success in helping professionals secure employment in the non-profit or corporate world. Having spent more than 20 years in both the corporate realm as a Vice President for Organization Development and in the Career Management industry as a Senior Career Consultant, he knows first-hand the strategies and tactics it takes to navigate a career transition successfully.

Our current economy has forced nearly 30 million people into unemployment, out from behind their desks to the streets or behind the fast-food counter. If you’re deep in the process of a job search, you’re in plenty of company. With this Job Market, there’s ample reason to become despondent – there’s frequent rejection, endless worry over finances, and dashed hopes. As one of my clients put it “I’m just a bug on the windshield of life”. Reason enough to feel distraught.

But take heart, it doesn’t have to be so!

Most everyone has the intelligence, the resolve and the energy to keep moving forward. You just need to adjust your thinking and practice certain tactics to keep your spirits up. Here are some pointers on trekking through the Job-Search Bog to higher ground and success.

1. Start a Brag-File. If you haven’t done so already, you absolutely need to begin recording those events when you did something well, that brought you a lot of affirmation. Start archiving those circumstances where you rescued a lost account or turned around a poor-performing office or solved a problem that stumped everyone else.

In the job search you’re going to run into rejection; people will question your experience, discount your qualifications, or misspell your name. In these instances you have to return to your achievement stories and take stock of all that you do well. Relive those circumstances where you stood out from the pack and really delivered. Doing so enables you to readily provide examples in an interview, but also works to raise your morale and reminds you that you have a lot to offer an employer.

2. Practice Sharp U-Turns. During tough times, we often succumb to behaviors, to habits that may bring us short-term relief, but really harm us in the long run. When feeling pummeled black-and-blue from the job market, don’t be tempted to toss down a few dozen Harvey Wallbangers, or smoke a joint, or raid the medicine cabinet for those kite-flying prescription drugs. I also caution clients about devoting hours to Facebook or over the top shopping sprees. Guard against developing self-destructive behaviors.

3. Pump Some Iron (or Aluminum). When turning away from bad habits, make a conscious effort to engage in those activities that bolster your physical and mental well-being as well as keep you moving forward in your search. Adopt an exercise routine; strive to spend 30 minutes a day walking or working out at the local recreation center. Make it a regular part of your weekly routine to gather with good friends or enjoy an outing with the family. Don’t become isolated. Also make a list of five things to do regarding your search and do two of them by the end of the day. My clients make phone calls to managers, set up networking appointments, or reach out to targeted contacts on LinkedIn. Stay purposefully active.

4. Smack-A-Mole. This probably sounds like “New Wave Metaphysics” but as best you can, watch your head games, control your thoughts. Dwelling continually on the negative aspects of a search only serves to draw down your energy and your morale. Believe me; it adversely affects how you come across in an interview. Remember the football film where the running back is about to carry the ball late in a close game and he repeats to himself “Don’t fumble,” “Don’t Fumble”, “Don’t fumble”? So what did he do? Of course, he fumbled the ball. When a dark and desperate thought enters your mind, act like the arcade game Smack-A-Mole, where you hammer a pop up figure with a rubber mallet. Belt that thought right out of your mind. Now granted we need to be realistic in reviewing our circumstances, but be objective of what you perceive then get off it. Don’t dwell on it. A helpful tactic is to identify one or two experiences that lift your spirits every time you think of them and use one of them to replace the negative image. For me it’s recalling my son’s hit to drive in the winning run in a baseball tournament or my daughter who’s a lyric soprano, singing a solo that brought down the house. Find one for yourself, and whenever your thoughts turn to Dark Swans, replace them with these affirming images.

The job search can certainly be a tough road to plow but knowing how to keep your mind and spirits uplifted will serve you well in the days ahead.

On Saturday, August 27, 9am – 1pm Packard and colleague Richard Oppenheim will be facilitating a workshop Greenwood Community Church called "Keeping Faith with Your Job Search." Packard has graciously offered the Carson J Spencer Foundation 10% of the proceeds of this workshop in support of our work on suicide prevention. If interested in this workshop, contact Packard for more information:

Packard N. Brown M.Div., CEC, RCC, Careers at Crossroads

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lifting their Voices: Suicide Attempt Survivors Speak Out

[Reprinted from American Association of Suicidology's NEWSlink June 2011]

The roadmap of suicide prevention is filled with challenging terrain and blind spots around the curves. Just when we feel we have advanced to a new frontier, another uncharted land lies ahead. Last year at the annual conference for the American Association of Suicidology we heard the voices of the clinician survivors come to the forefront: clinician survivors built solidarity around unaddressed needs and created a forum to advance the work to address these needs. At this year’s conference another group got organized and found momentum for organized empowerment: survivors of suicide attempts.

AAS Panel about helping attempt-survivors and their families (photo by David Covington)

Most notably, the conference featured a plenary panel about suicide attempt survivors called “Silent Journey: Helping Suicide Attempters and their Families.” Stephanie Weber, the Executive Director of Suicide Prevention Services in Batavia, Illinois shared her experiences running a support group for suicide attempt survivors.

“At last year’s conference,” Stephanie said, “a woman asked me ‘This is for survivors, but I am a survivor of my own attempt, not of someone else’s death. What is here for me?’ I told her ‘Next year we will have a panel of attempt survivors who are no longer alone or ashamed.’” Stephanie continued, “This is the last stigma. Why is it when we lose a loved one to suicide, we grieve, but when we have a loved one who attempts suicide and survives we are angry and don’t know how to talk about it?”

CW Tillman, a suicide attempt survivor, talked about his experiences with first responders and family members. He said, “There are several ways to help suicide attempters. The first way is just to be honest. At first, after my suicide attempt they told me, ‘That was a stupid thing to do,’ and I know they meant ‘I love you’ and ‘I want you around.’” CW recommends not using the term “failed attempt.” He explains how he sees his suicide attempt as a success by virtue of its not resulting in his death.

Jason Padgett, Project Coordinator for Tennessee Lives Count, talked about his experiences with family members who had gone through suicidal crises. He said, “For all those out there who support those who struggle with suicide, you need support too.”

Finally, Dr. Kate Comtois, Associate Professor at University of Washington, shared findings from her research. After evaluating the similarities of effective psychotherapies for suicidal individuals, she concluded they have at least three qualities:

1) Suicide is treated directly, not just by treating the diagnosed mental illness or by observing or constraining the individual. She said these therapies focus tightly on what is making people suicidal and what can be done about it.

2) These therapies employ an overt, determined, and persistent collaborative stance. The therapist connects with the individual, not using the perspective “We, the experts will fix you, the patient,” but rather “Together, let’s see what we can figure out.”

3) Clinicians work as part of a staff team – they meet regularly to discuss cases and burnout.

Dr. Comtois also summarized what participants in her research said about their journeys after attempting suicide:

1) The pressures on individuals who have attempted suicide are tremendous. The response of our mental health system is to diagnose mental illness and prescribe medication, yet this will not solve their problems.

2) Individuals who had attempted suicide reflected that the researchers asked many more questions about their suicide attempt and their history of suicidal coping than the referring clinicians or team had.

3) Study participants engage in and appreciate the suicide-specific treatment that the researchers developed. This was not consistently the case for the treatment as usual group.

4) Study participants followed most of the recommendations from emergency departments, inpatient units, and the researchers.

Some of the conference attendees found the panel moving. Eduardo Vega, himself a survivor of a suicide attempt, said, “Suicide is not a problem that is fixed in a hospital. Bringing the voices here really touched me.” David Covington, Executive Committee member of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention said, “The leaders of suicide attempt survivors are changing the way we think.”

I too am moved by their lived experience and believe their inner wisdom holds the keys to our ability to better understand suicide prevention.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guest Blog: Why I Donated My Psyche to Science

I am delighted to introduce my guest blogger Amy (Cooper) Rodriguez. Her husband Dave was a good friend of my brother Carson's; they all attended Bowdoin College (class of '93). Last month she reached out to me to tell me they thought of Carson a lot and remembered his vitality. She also told me that she suffered from depression on a number of occasions (including while at Bowdoin) and did her best to hide it at all cost. Recently, she met with a group of medical students to let them interview her about her experiences with depression and anxiety and to let them know how good people can be at hiding it. Thank you, Amy for sharing your story. In her words...

Amy Cooper Rodriquez, Guest Blogger

As Robert Frost said, “I experience everything twice. Once when I experience it and once when I write about it.” Therein lies the reason I don’t like to talk-much less write- about depression.

But after successful treatment for post-partum depression, I was intrigued to get an email from my psychiatrist saying, “How would you feel about being interviewed by some second-year med students? You can tell them what you’ve gone through and help them understand a bit about depression and anxiety. You’d be great!”

Hmmm. What did this mean? I couldn’t figure out whether to be flattered or alarmed. Did this mean I was the epitome of anxiety…the most extreme case he’d ever seen? Or did it mean I was just high-functioning enough to put some answers together?

I had my first bout with depression when I was a sophomore at Bowdoin College. My boyfriend and I had broken up, and he was dating someone new. I watched them stroll hand in hand as I plodded across the quad to class. I felt as if I were wearing a lead vest from an x-ray. The campus still looked idyllic, like the brochure. The pine trees still reached into the brilliant blue sky while the sun shone on the students playing Frisbee, yet I could only observe: “The sky is very blue.” I had a hard time understanding people. When I think back, I picture cocking my head to the side while I listened to them, as if I were a dog, or squinting my eyes while I watched their mouths, as if I were hard of hearing. Worst of all, I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling. Not only did I feel depressed, I felt ashamed.

When I recovered, I swore I’d never feel that shame again. But the next time, the shame was worse because this time my depression came with the birth of my first baby, my daughter. I remember how guilty I’d felt lying next to her thinking, what gives me the right to be sad when I have a beautiful, healthy baby? I wondered how many moms were out there now, lying next to their babies, crying. And I knew I had to contact my doctor and see what I could do.

I emailed my psychiatrist asking him what the meeting would involve. He left me an enthusiastic voicemail, “Oh, they need to learn how to listen to their patients. They’ll be more nervous than you! You’ll be wonderful!”

So, a week later I drove into Boston. Like everyone in hospital waiting rooms, I was nervous and fidgety. I sat up straight, slouched back into the chair, stood up, looked out the windows, and rummaged through my pocketbook.

At last, my doctor appeared, smiling warmly. He gestured behind him to a flock of eager young people in white coats. Beautiful people right out of Grey’s Anatomy.

“Amy,” my doctor said, “you’ll be coming with us. “Mike, here,” he pointed to the cutest one, “has agreed to do the interview.” Mike, with his dark hair and olive skin, smiled at me with piercing blue eyes. I found myself wishing he were less handsome.

My doctor led us to the hospital cafeteria where I scanned the room to see if I knew anybody. This seemed like a strange place for a confidential interview, but my doctor found a table tucked toward the back of the room. The students and I jockeyed awkwardly for seats. I didn’t want to be at the head of the table, like I was leading a boardroom meeting, nor did I want to be alone on one side of the table like an inmate at a parole board hearing. I was hoping for a we’re-all-in- this-together feeling.

I finally sat in the middle of one side, and hospitably waved for the students to sit. They looked nervous and, because of my habit of talking when I am nervous, I began to babble. “It’s so great that you guys are doing this. Wow. Med school. I went to PT school.” Smile. Smile. Babble. Babble. I was playing emcee for this group of medical students. I looked at my doctor as if to say please stop me.

He intervened. “Mike will ask you some questions, and you answer with whatever you are comfortable sharing.”

Mike smiled. He made excellent eye contact.

“So Amy, how’ve you been feeling?”

I reverted to the role of the happy patient. “Good. Good,” I answered, nodding my head and smiling.

Mike raised his eyebrows.

“Oh well, I used to be depressed,” I said, laughing nervously. “You know, back in college, when my boyfriend and I broke up. And then after I had my daughter. Sometimes I don’t feel so great, but then I see Dr. Sharp, and he helps me.”

Mike nodded and leaned toward me.

I leaned in, too, ready to be impressive and articulate. But then I thought, What am I doing? I am not here for a job interview. I am not trying to convince people of how capable I am. I took a deep breath and sat back. I remembered why I came. Why I paid a sitter to watch my kids. Why I drove through crazy Boston traffic. Not to chat with a handsome guy but to help doctors learn how to figure out their patients. To take time. To dig deeper. To really know them. Because they would all have patients like me who try to appear peppy and bright when they are dying inside.

I let my shoulders fall. “It’s been really, really hard,” I said. “I’ve been depressed a few times. I have to be careful to make sure my life is balanced. I take medicine, but I also have to talk about it and make time for myself.”

I scanned the table. They were all listening intently. So I held nothing back. “I’ve given birth twice, had surgeries, been hospitalized with infections, had migraines, and I would gladly take all of those experiences over being depressed. That’s how bad it feels.”

Suddenly I was acutely aware of my surroundings--not in anxious way--but in an empowered way. I had wanted to be honest, to try to help others, to reduce the stigma of mental illness. I had never been sure of how, but maybe this was it.

The students looked at me and nodded. I didn’t babble or fidget and neither did they. We sat in silence for a moment, and I knew they had heard me. After a pause, they began asking questions, and I answered them. It became less of an interview and more of a conversation. They asked me what made me tell the truth to Dr. Sharp and asked what they could do to get patients to talk. I told them, “I saw a lot of doctors who were fine but they never knew how much I struggled. Dr. Sharp took the time to chip away until I told him how bad things were. I think the doctor has to be open and caring, and I think the patient has to be ready.”

They thanked me graciously as we stood and shook hands. Then my doctor patted me on the back as he walked me to the door. “See?” he said. “I told you you’d do great. Thanks for helping us.”

Maybe it was the idealist in me, the romantic--the Grey’s Anatomy viewer, but I drove home feeling like those young people would understand more about their patients someday. Maybe someday a college girl like me would come in to their office- or a new mom ashamed to admit just how desperate she feels. Maybe it would be a middle-aged man-a CEO- or a new dad, and maybe these doctors-to-be would help. At least I hope so. And hope, so they say, is the best antidote to depression.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Working Minds Contest -- Celebrating Mentally Healthy Workplaces

With so much focus on toxic workplaces and the stress of the economy on the employee, the Carson J Spencer Foundation decided to do something a little bit different: focus on the workplaces that are getting it right. While we know many workplaces are suffering under intense pressure resulting in bullying, depression, and dissatisfaction among the ranks, other workplaces have found ways to not only survive this rough spot, but to help their staff thrive. In recognition of this, the Carson J Spencer Foundation is hosting a contest to acknowledge mentally healthy workplaces. Application deadline is July 11, 2011.

Photo from Flickr by Bfick


• Must be a Colorado workplace (nonprofit, for-profit or governmental)

• Innovative and effective approaches that promote mental health at work

o New and creative methods implemented in your workplace

o Positive outcomes (e.g., lower absenteeism, increased productivity, increased retention)

Contest Guidelines: Submit a 500-word essay that answers the questions:

How is mental health promoted at your workplace? What strategies have you implemented and how have they been effective? Please give examples and data to support your statements.

Consider the following questions:

• How do you educate your workforce about mental health as part of overall wellness?

• What are the practices and policies that minimize distress at work?

• How does the workplace support those who are experiencing mental illness, trauma or bereavement?

• How does the workplace promote a sense of purpose and belonging?


First Place ($1219 award value)

• Recognition at Shining Lights of Hope Benefit Auction Evening (August 28th @ 5:00pm at Infinity Park in Glendale, CO)

o Award ceremony

o Prominent display of company logo (program and slide show)

o 5 complimentary seats at honoree table ($500 value)

• Public Relations

o Interview and feature article in CJSF newsletter and blog (reaching 2,000)

o Press release recognition as “mentally healthy workplace” sent to local media outlets

o Feature on Carson J Spencer Foundation website

• Training

o One year membership to Working Minds Network ($120)

o Complimentary Working Minds Toolkit ($99) and 2-3 hour training ($500)

Second Place ($769 value)

• Recognition at Shining Lights of Hope Benefit Auction Evening

o Award ceremony

o Logo display (program and slide show)

o 3 complimentary seats at honoree table ($300 value)

• Public Relations

o Announcement in CJSF newsletter (reaching 2,000) and website

• Training

o One year membership to Working Minds Network ($120)

o Complimentary Working Minds Toolkit ($99) and 1 ½ hour training ($250)

Third Place ($419 value)

• Recognition at Shining Lights of Hope Benefit Auction Evening

o Award ceremony

o Logo display (program and slide show)

o 2 complimentary seats at honoree table ($200 value)

• Public Relations

o Announcement in CJSF newsletter (reaching 2,000) and website

• Training

o One year membership to Working Minds Network ($120)

o Complimentary Working Minds Toolkit ($99)

Applications should be sent electronically to Sally Spencer-Thomas: For more information or to get an application, please call 720-244-6535.

About the Carson J Spencer Foundation - Sustaining a Passion for Life

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 life. We sustain a passion for life 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

Working Minds Mentally Healthy Workplace Contest

Registration Form


Name of Contact Person

Position in organization

Organization address




Name of Organization



Size of Workforce

Annual Revenue

How long in business

500 word essay --How is mental health promoted at your workplace? What strategies have you implemented and how have they been effective? (Please include examples and data documentation award review)?


By entering this contest, you give permission to allow the Carson J Spencer Foundation and the “Working Minds” program to share your success stories including pictures, appropriate interviews and the use of your logo.

Questions: Please contact or 720-244-6535.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Top 10 Programming Tips for Mental Health Advocates

For the past twenty years I have worked with mental health advocates on campuses and in communities to help them create positive change. Here are the top ten programming tips I have learned along the way:

1. Normalize struggle safely

Photo by Foxtongue
 One goal for many mental health advocates is to let people know they are not alone. When mental illnesses and suicidal crises strike, people often suffer in silence. Letter people know what others have lived through similar challenges often provides comfort. One of the most successful programs using this strategy of “normalizing struggle” is Frank Warren’s Post Secret project. Frank encouraged strangers to send him their secrets written on postcards which he subsequently posted to a blog. The honesty of these pieces is very compelling and the program has been replicated on many college campuses and has started many positive conversations about despair and help-seeking. It’s the idea that pain shared is pain lessened. The trap that some mental health advocates fall into, however, is overemphasizing the prevalence of extreme behaviors as an “epidemic.” This type of messaging can make people feel hopeless about change. Worse, when it comes to suicide, this type of exaggeration might even create a cultural script that inadvertently influences people to engage in suicidal behavior, because it is the ‘norm’ of what people do to cope with pain. Following the safe messaging guidelines can help mental health advocates make sure what the messages they are sending are promoting health and not creating additional risk.

2. Offer screening tools that lead to action

Screening is a great example of a low cost, high impact tool for mental health advocates. Like with other health issues, screening for mental health conditions increases the likelihood that we can identify emerging symptoms and alter their course with early intervention. Screening offers people a way to anonymously self-assess, which is often an attractive first step for those who are ambivalent about help-seeking. A screening that just gives participant a label, however, will fall short. Effective screening tools give participants a call to action and link them to additional local and on-line resources. Many on-line and paper screening options exist (e.g., Screening for Mental Health), and nationally recognized days can make screening a part of a community’s regular health programming:

National Depression Screening (October)

National Eating Disorders Screening Day (February)

National Alcohol Screening Day (April)

National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day (May)

3. Know your resources on a first-person basis

Effective mental health advocates do their homework. If you want to be a trusted referral source, you need to walk your talk. Get to know your local mental health providers. Visit your local psychiatric hospital. Invite local counselors to a “meet and greet” event. Call your local crisis line to get a better sense of how it works. Ask the questions you need to have answered so you can confidentially refer. Your referral will be so much stronger if you can say, “Oh, I know Dr. So-n-so, she’s really approachable and competent. I’ll take you there to meet her if you’d like.”

4. Share stories of hope and recovery

A main goal of many mental health advocates is to reduce the stigma of mental illness; however, the more we talk about stigma, the more we actually reinforce it. Instead, we can fight stigma by sharing stories of hope and recovery. When we can demonstrate how others transform their wounds into sources of power, we create hope. When respected people come forward and say, “I suffered, and I got better” others feel they can get better too and the issues become less marginalized. When you do programs that highlight the experience of mental illness, be sure that they don’t end with despair; share the healing practices and positive outcomes as well.

5. Make programs attractive and fun

It’s human nature to turn away from things that are scary, confusing, and depressing. The challenge for mental health advocates is to make programs uplifting, engaging and cool without becoming so superficial they miss the point. One of my favorite examples of this outcome came from a student group I worked with a few years ago. One student was a musician, one worked at the radio station, and one was a community organizer. The musician came up with the idea to have friends write songs with themes of overcoming emotional struggles. These songs were then recorded in the campus radio station and turned into CDs. The community organizer then sold them to students, faculty and staff around campus to raise money for future mental health programs. The student musicians were excited to be recorded and helped spread the mental health messages much wider than the small group could do alone.

6. Tell people what you want them to remember

Sometimes, in our attempt to get attention to our cause, we play up tragic outcomes and overlook important calls to action and messages of hope. We need to tell people what we want them to remember: treatment works, prevention is possible, and people recover. Let people know what to do if they are struggling or if they are worried about a friend or loved one. Tell people exactly how to get involved in suicide prevention in their communities.

7. Engage leadership

Often mental health advocacy work gains momentum at the grassroots level – passionate families, students, or faith community members come together and apply their collective energy to make changes. “Grass-top” approaches should also be considered to augment this strategy. People in position of influence can often move things along more quickly and usually just need to know that people care about an issue. So, start the conversation. Write to your legislators. Set up a meeting with your university administrators. Have coffee with professional association and business leaders. Speak the language that is meaningful to them (voters needs, cost savings, student retention), and give them concrete and simple ways to help.

8. Provide opportunities for deep learning

Many mental health promotion efforts seek to promote awareness, but education alone will not move the needle. We call it the “State Trooper Effect.” We pay attention to educational or awareness raising efforts when they are done well and right in front of us, but once they are in our rear view mirror, we tend to go back to what we were doing before. Deep learning goes beyond passive input of knowledge. Deep learning engages people in a knowing-being-doing process. Yes, education is part of that equation – a necessary, but not sufficient piece. We also need to get people “doing” – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually involved in the work, and in order really make it stick, personal reflection on the experience is key.

9. Create a symbol of solidarity

We’ve seen the pink ribbons and the Livestrong bracelets. Symbols of solidarity work, but they need to be unique. When these symbols work well, people can see at a glance the community that is being built. Symbols used to promote suicide prevention can let people who are struggling know who might be a safe person to approach with questions. When the symbol of solidarity starts to spread to large groups of people it is a powerful testament to a person secretly in despair. Some examples of symbols of solidarity include:
Photo by Joits

• Mardi gras beaded necklaces often worn at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of Darkness Walk. Participants choose to wear different colors to symbolize their experience – one color represents “I have lost a loved one to suicide,” another color might mean “I have struggled myself,” while another “I support the cause of suicide prevention.”

• Stickers that show hands reaching out to one another hung on the room doors of Residence Hall Assistants who have been trained as suicide prevention gatekeepers.

• Stars displayed on the stage of a community forum – one star symbolizing each person who received help that year.

10. Promote belonging and purpose

Thomas Joiner’s model of suicide risk tells us that thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness and two critical factors that increase a desire for suicide; the opposites of these states are belonging and purpose. When we create meaningful communities and let people know they are needed, we are doing suicide prevention.


What are your top tips for effective mental health programming?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On the Power of Ritual to Make Meaning for Survivors of Suicide Loss

Reprinted with permission from the American Association of Suicidology's Newslink newsletter

Many of us who are caught up in the conspiracy of busyness are often cut off from our grief. In many cultures in the U.S., we are trained to be fearful of death; we are conditioned to “get over” our loss and move on as quickly as possible. However, as a Jewish prayer states, “We do best homage to our dead by living our lives fully even in the shadow of our loss. Our grief is what allows us to begin to live our lives fully again after loss.” One of the ways I have found to work through the grief and loss of my brother’s suicide is through healing rituals.

Rituals are symbolic actions that usually acknowledge or honor transitions in our lives and can be very powerful tools for processing our emotions. For one, they can provide some containment for what feels like a chaotic, out-of-control experience. We usually don’t know what to do, especially in the aftermath of an unanticipated trauma like suicide. Rituals sometimes have very soothing, reassuring aspects to them and give our minds something meaningful to focus upon.

Many other reasons for the effectiveness of rituals exist. When words don’t suffice, rituals offer symbolic means to communicate. Community rituals help build a sense of solidarity. As we try to figure out a “new normal” in our individual and family lives, rituals can help give us structure. Rituals can become intentional releases like pressure valves; they can bring forth cherished memories and connect us to what matters most. Every year I engage in and facilitate a number of rituals for myself, my family and my community. Here are some:

Rituals of remembrance: Probably the most common rituals for grieving a loss are rituals of remembrance. Lighting candles in honor of our loved ones is a powerful and beautiful acknowledgement of the light they brought to the world. Saying the names of our deceased loved ones out loud also has a strong impact. I remember after my brother died by suicide, I was at a complete loss on what to do on Father’s Day for my Dad. When I meditated on this question, the image of a Weeping American Elm flashed in my mind’s eye. Planting a tree together provided a ritual that symbolized Carson’s enduring spirit and the seasons of our lives. Watching the tree grow reminds us that our bond with him continues.

Rituals of communication: Rituals of communication can give us the opportunity to say the things we couldn’t or didn’t while our loved one was alive. One way to do this is by writing a letter or a poem to our loved one.

Rituals of nurturing: Grieving is hard work, and often we are so overwhelmed by the intensity of our emotions, we forget to take care of ourselves. In the process, we can find ourselves drained or continually sick, and this just adds to our misery. Having a “comfort box” nearby can give us some ideas on how we can replenish ourselves. Soothing music or aromatherapy might be nurturing for some. Other people might include religious passages or affirmations that they find grounding. Pictures or stories that make us laugh or warm our soul can also help.

Rituals of reflection: In our busy lives we often find it hard to pause and reflect on where we have been, where we are at and where we are going. Rituals of reflection give us the space and structure to do this. Sometimes this form of ritual can be through meditation or prayer. Others times we may find journaling or drawing serve this purpose. I find long periods of meditation open up channels of thought or insight I cannot get in any other way. I follow these practices with journaling around the insights I have received, and I often look back on these entries to “connect the dots” of themes in my entries.

Rituals of community connection: Many of the local and national suicide prevention walks offer rituals of community connection as a way to publicly honor our loved ones and create a sense of belongingness among bereaved people. I have seen balloon releases, dove releases, and “mardi gras” bead wearing as examples of these community practices. At our AAS conference each year we have our survivor quilts (quilts made to honor our loved ones who died by suicide) displayed. These group rituals let us know we are not alone in our pain.

Rituals of release: Sometimes we have places in our grief that seem to get in our way. Guilt, anger, and regret can fester and keep us stuck. For rituals of release, some people have written these thoughts out on paper and then have burned the paper as a symbol of letting these toxic emotions go. Others have buried symbols of these emotions in the ground.

On the anniversary of my brother’s death, I bring out everything I have that reminds me of him. I usually take the day off from work and have the house to myself. I watch videos, look at pictures, and read the letters he wrote to me. I smile as I read the 10-year-old handwritten note he send me while I was at summer camp. I cry as I watch the video of him joyously playing with his daughter. I look at the pictures of us hugging at different ages in our lives and think, “he loved me, he loved me, he loved me.” And I put my finger right on the grieving, because I never want to lose touch with why I do this work. I will always remember, and I believe he walks with me as I go on this journey.

At the close of the Healing after Suicide Conference in April, we will have a healing ceremony for survivors of suicide loss. If you have a ritual you have found to be particularly powerful that can be done in a large group setting, I would love to have your ideas. Please, email me at


For more resources for Survivors of Suicide Loss visit the American Association of Suicidology: click here.

The Carson J Spencer Foundation offers families recently bereaved by suicide iCare Packages (semi-customized resources packets). For more information: click here.

What rituals have helped you or others who have been bereaved by suicide?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Simple Gift: Reaching Out and Renewing Hope at Work

Reprinted with permission by the Colorado HR Association
Photo by mmlolek

After my brother died by suicide in 2004, my workplace gave me the most amazing gift – the gift of their support. As many of them reached out to me, their kindness made all the difference in my ability to cope with this devastating loss.

First, there was Jerene, my direct supervisor. Just two days after my brother’s death, Jerene called me up, “Sally where are you? I am coming over to give you something.”

She drove from our workplace up to my parents’ home and delivered a huge vat of chicken soup. During a time when my family could barely choke anything down, that soup sustained us.

Then there was Tom, my Vice President. On the day of the memorial service, Tom joined many of my co-workers at the church. After the service was over, he found me and gently cupped my face in his hands to express his sympathy. This tender gesture was so heartfelt and kind; I will never forget it.

Finally, my bereavement leave ended, and I found myself facing the reality that I needed to return to work and some level of functioning. When I opened the door to my office on my first day back, my desk was covered with cards, flowers and well-wishes. From co-workers I knew well, and from folks I didn’t know at all. I instantly knew that the support I was going to get was going to carry me through this very difficult part of my life.


Humans are hardwired to be in relationship with others. For some these are vast connections and broad social networks, and for others just a few intimate bonds are all they need. Workplaces that are mentally healthy cultivate a sense of belonging. Work teams and social groups can sometimes evolve into friendships that last a lifetime. Belonging fosters a sense of trust and interdependency that can help distressed workers find hope during tough times. When workmates pull together around difficult assignments, the encouragement they give one another can be the protective factor that decreases the impact of high levels of stress. For these reasons, workplaces that foster genuine belonging will find they have more mentally resilient employees.

A Little Goes a Long Way

While we can all think of some people that are constant drains in relationships because their needs are so great, most people do not need much. A little caring usually goes a long way. For example, in one study, hospitals sent caring letters to people who had recently been discharged after a serious suicide attempt. The letters just said something to the effect of, “We’re so glad you came in for treatment. Please, call us if we can help in any way.” Each letter was personalized to a small degree and signed by the attending care provider. The research found that the patients who received the caring letters were significantly less likely to have a subsequent suicide attempt than those who didn’t get the letters. If that wasn’t enough, the study was replicated using computer generated postcards – no personalization whatsoever. The same outcome resulted. If a computer generated postcard can have this level of impact, think about what is possible when people who know each other reach out and say, “I see that you have been looking down lately. I am here for you.”

Reaching the Unreachable

Another known fact is that people who have multiple risks for suicide are also sometimes the least likely to seek help on their own. Because of this, caring work communities need to be intentional in reaching the “unreachable.”

Mother Teresa was known for helping those that no one else would. In a story she wrote in her book, In the Heart of the World, she talks about finding an elderly man who had been ignored by everyone and whose home was in complete disarray.

She told him, "Please, let me clean your house, wash your clothes, and make your bed." He answered, "I'm okay like this. Let it be."

She persisted and he finally agreed. While she was cleaning his house, she discovered a beautiful lamp, covered with dust.

She asked him, "Don't you light your lamp? Don't you ever use it?"

He answered, "No. No one comes to see me. I have no need to light it. Who would I light it for?"

She asked, "Would you light it every night if the sisters came?"

He replied, "Of course."

From that day on the sisters committed themselves to visiting him every evening. They cleaned the lamp and lit it every evening.

Two years went by and Mother Teresa had completely forgotten that man when she received a message from him: "Tell my friend that the light she lit in my life continues to shine still."


One of the great things about the gift of reaching out is that we can re-gift it and people don’t think it’s tacky. It turns out the idea of “paying it forward” is both a gift to the receiver and a gift to the giver. When people who have been helped through a difficult time are able to help another, they often find meaning in their earlier struggle and value the wisdom gained.

This notion of “reciprocity” is one of the cornerstones in what make programs like Alcoholics Anonymous work. When people successfully go through the 12-steps of the program and maintain their sobriety, they can become sponsors and support others who are just beginning. The work of being a sponsor helps many maintain sobriety because it strengthens positive self-regard. Furthermore, sponsors find that being there for someone else makes them hold themselves accountable to being a worthy role model.

If people who are resistant to seeking help see an opportunity to pay it forward by mentoring another down the road, they often become more inclined to receive the gift of help. Peer support and mentoring programs offer these opportunities at worksites, but other opportunities can exist within communities.

In summary, reaching out is a great gift – one size fits all, and it’s easy to exchange.

For more information on suicide prevention, intervention or postvention training visit or contact


What have you noticed about how others do or do not give each other support at work?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tsunami: The Aftermath of a Suicide Crisis

My brother Carson died by suicide December 7, 2004 -- the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, two weeks before Christmas, and two weeks before his 35th birthday. It was also two weeks before the Asian tsunami. As the world reacted to that disaster, the aftermath of Carson’s death similarly hit our family, as we too were flooded, overwhelmed, and left helpless. The news of his suicide crashed tsunami-like around us – totally engulfing us in despair and darkness. Frozen and in shock, we fought for every breath, thinking “This cannot be happening.” I confused night with day, day with night. I remember feeling very, very vulnerable. I would be driving to the airport to pick up a guest for Carson’s memorial service and I would look up and have no idea where I was or what I was doing. Then I would be hit by a wave of panic as I were sure everyone on the road was going to hit my car.

After the birth of my third child in September, I had been on maternity leave for the months leading up to Carson’s death. I had burned up all my sick and vacation time, and the three days we are given to grieve a first degree relative. I needed to resurface and go back to work. I remember coming up for air and looking around; the landscape had changed because my brother was no longer in it. Everything looked and felt different. Things that were so desperately important at work before no longer mattered. I both dreaded and welcomed my first day back to the office. Dread because I just didn’t care anymore; desired because I missed the structure and sense of purpose my workplace provided me. I remember the first day back. I opened my office door to see a pile of cards and flowers on my desk. My inbox was filled with well-wishes, many from people I didn’t even know. I knew with this level of support that I would be okay. My workplace gave me the flextime to access our Employee Assistance Program and attend support groups, which I did. They told me to do what needed to do to get back on my feet, and I am forever grateful for their kindness during this very trying time in my life.

Just like the tsunami, the ripple effects of Carson’s death spread deep and wide, and to this day still continue to affect others. Thanks to social media, I am still connecting with people Carson knew who are just now learning of his passing. His co-workers and business partners established a scholarship in his memory designed to help young entrepreneurs get to college. This loving affirmation of my brother’s life carries on his gift of helping others and gave many of those connected through his work a chance to honor his life.

The aftershocks of the trauma were severe at first, some of them predictable like on Father’s Day, his wedding anniversary, his birthday, and certainly his death anniversary. Others caught us off guard, like the time I was digging through a box of photos. I found a picture that I had forgotten about, of us dancing at my wedding. Not many brothers and sisters dance to their own song when they get married to another person, but Carson and I had a song: Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Whenever we heard it on the radio we would belt it out to each other at the top of our lungs as silly as possible. At my wedding, Carson and I twirled around the dance floor – my hair coming out of the up-do, his shirt hanging untucked from his tuxedo. And someone snapped a picture as we joyously sang the chorus, eyes locked and laughing. When I found this picture, I wept and wept. Then I made a copy of it to hang next to my computer at work, so I would never forget.

As with the tsunami, the rebuilding process has been long and hard, requiring many systems of support. In this sense I often feel lucky, because unlike many survivors of suicide I had a workplace that was supportive, a faith community that understood his suicide as the fatal outcome of a mental illness (not a crime against God), and a network of friends and co-workers who did all the right things.

I don’t tell this story because I want pity or because I need sympathy. While losing Carson has clearly been the most difficult experience of my life, I have been given many gifts along my grief journey. I was reminded of this by the leader of the rock group Seether, who lost his younger brother to suicide and wrote a song called “Rise Above This” on the album Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces. This too has been my experience in grief. I have found depth in relationships and spirituality and an unwavering calling of vocation. No, I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I tell this story because so few families do, and thus, people think it can never happen to them. While I am humbled by this experience, I am also hopeful. Suicide is arguably one of the more preventable causes of death, so I also share this story in hopes that others will come forward and say, “I too have been affected, and I want to make a difference - how can I get involved?” And finally, I share this story because people who are in a suicidal crisis often think they those who love them will be better off without them. I am here to tell them that suicide causes a legacy of trauma and pain that continues for generations. No matter how hard it gets, you never know what is waiting for you around the corner.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bridging the Gap: Interview with Author Jack Jordan

Reprinted with permission from the American Association of Suicidology's Surviving newsletter

Jack Jordan, co-author of Grief After Suicide (available on
As I was pulling together my syllabus to teach a course on Suicidology to graduate level clinicians, I was searching for a text on suicide postvention when one arrived at my doorstep. Dr. Jack Jordan, a clinical psychologist from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, had sent a copy of the recently published book Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors. Jack co-authored the book with Dr. John McIntosh and sent it to me for my review. After flipping through the pages, I was impressed with the depth and breadth of the book, and called him immediately to thank him and interview him about this work. The following conversation transpired on December 3, 2010.

Sally: Who is Jack Jordan?

Jack: I’m sort of an odd duck. I’m a clinical psychologist in private practice, but I also function like an academic. Twenty-five years ago, I became involved in the “Family Loss Project” – a group of practicing clinicians who were interested in the impact of loss on family systems, especially multigenerational impact.

Sally: How did you get into the work of studying grief among survivors of suicide loss?

Jack: Thirteen years ago, I had an epiphany. We were working with survivors of suicide loss in our practice and I thought, “They should be talking to each other.” So, we started a support group and it ran for about 13 years. To me, this was an inspiration. I saw their suffering, but I also saw their resilience and how they helped each other.

Sally: What came next?

Jack: I became involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and co-wrote the manual for their facilitator training program with Joanne Harpel. I took the training for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk curriculum. Now I train and consult around the country and the world.

Sally: Has suicide touched you personally?

Jack: I am a distant suicide survivor – my great uncle took his life in 1987, but it was not a life-transforming loss because I only knew him in my childhood. It was my Dad’s death due to cancer when I was in my 20s that pulled me into grief work.

Sally: What is the inspiration for the book?

Jack: The book comes out of my interest in bridging the gap between research, academia, clinical work, and survivors. It has been apparent to me for a long time, somebody needs to do this; so finally I decided, maybe it’s me. I invited John [McIntosh] to work with me because he has researched and written about survivor issues for a long time.

Sally: What are the goals for the book?

Jack: Our target audience is really researchers and clinicians, and to a lesser extent activist survivors. This is not a self-help book; it’s really meant to say, “What has happened in the last 20 years in the field of survivor studies?”

Sally: Tell me about the book’s journey. What have been some of the challenges and celebrations?

Jack: I have gone from despair – was I actually going to survive this? – to some revelations. Everyone connected to you endures some of this. I pay homage to my wife for her patience. The revelation came because this work helped me see even more clearly how much is going on simultaneously around the world. Suicide awareness and prevention have been coming out of the closet. Now survivors are too. I hope the book accelerates this. All this amazing stuff. This work also helped me understand that despite some obvious cultural differences, the themes of survivor grief are similar around the world. I expected more differences, but at the heart of it all, losing someone to suicide transcends cultural difference.

I had a great partner in this. John loves to do the stuff I loathe. The APA references made me completely nuts. Thank God John could do this. My forte is about broad strategic thinking and writing.

Sally: What has happened since the book was published?

Jack: I went to a conference in October [2010] and had not seen a hard copy yet. There it was, and someone asked me, “Would you autograph these?” Strange experience. Surreal. I thought, “Oh, the cover came out pretty good. Maybe I’ll buy a copy.” Hopefully, the book will serve as a catalyst in the field, stimulating more research and clinical theory.

For more resources for Survivors of Suicide Loss visit the American Association of Suicidology: click here.
The Carson J Spencer Foundation offers families recently bereaved by suicide iCare Packages (semi-customized resources packets). For more information: click here.

What are your thoughts on what is needed to support survivors of suicide loss?