Wednesday, November 11, 2015

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

By Sally Spencer-Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicides


Permission to post by International Thought Leadership

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

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

About the Author

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Learning from Lived Experience: Bridging the Gap between Mental Health Service Providers and Suicide Attempt Survivors

Photo credit: @ElevatingtheConvo
On February 27th at the University of Denver a historic event took place. Three hundred mental health service providers and people with lived experience with suicidal thoughts and behaviors came together at the annual “Elevating the Conversation” conference to have a better understanding of how to make treatment more effective.

The day began with a panel of suicide attempt survivors sharing their journeys of recovery from their darkest days. All three had attempted as youth or young adults, and all three had been written off by their providers as chronic and deteriorating cases. Today all three are thriving with national level leadership positions in mental health, intact families, and stable mental health states. They talked about how for them, “treatment” often felt like punishment, and how compassion and peer support were often powerful elements in their healing.

The second panel consisted of three mental health providers – two psychologists and a psychiatrist – who talked about their lived experience with suicide loss (family and client) and suicide attempts. Together they addressed the myth of professional distinction so often reinforced -- “us” and “them” – and spoke about how all of us are touched in one way or another by suicide. They talked honestly and openly about how their lived experience informs their clinical practice today.

Following the panels, the presenters shared three sets of national guidelines, designed to make suicide prevention and bereavement support more effective:

Too often fear drives a gap between mental health service providers and suicide attempt survivors. Being sued and losing a client to suicide are two of the biggest fears providers have. Losing one’s dignity and rights are two of the biggest fears people living with suicide intensity have. By coming together and discussing these fears and how to move past them, a bridge begins to emerge.