Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fatherhood, Depression, and Being a Better Man

Guest Post by Robert Case
Reposted with permission from the American Association of Suicidology

“Luke...I am your father!”

Recognize the line? Back then, when Star War flashed onto the silver screen, the message seemed obvious - conflicts are external and real heroes never give up.

Imagine my chagrin then, as a father with two small children, when our family experienced layoff and divorce. The financial hardship that followed was an external foe. Even though we were going broke in slow motion, I had plenty of training to deal with that kind of adversity. I couldn't cope with the internal foe of fear. I didn't know what to do with the unfilled dreams and desires of the inner man and how those stood in opposition to the outer man I showed to the world every day. What eventually followed was a bout with acute depression.
Photo by Craig Miller

Balancing the world of work with raising children as a single dad eventually demonstrated that I still had lots of grieving to do, lingering issues from that first half of life. To pass the nighttime hours I would walk, journal, and then walk again.

I needed help and fortunately, found it, in community mental health services and individual therapy.  Men’s work became a quest for healing, balance, and wholeness. I found guidance and strength in being able to recommit to the journey of fatherhood. As long as my kids and I were under the same roof, I found ways to access the motivation to stay on that nurturing, providing, and protecting path.

Photo from Public Domain Archive
It was a long time ago. Why should I even bother to tell this story? One reason is because the economics of the present day seem eerily familiar. Secondly, it has taken me this long to find my voice. I hope that sharing this story serves as a demonstration to others, that: (a) It’s OK to stumble, (b) It’s OK to ask for help, and, especially for young men, (c) To be a good father is a high aspiration for any man.
Photo From Google Images

Robert is a father, author, and community leader. Years ago, he was diagnosed with acute depression in the wake of layoff and divorce. Through individual therapy and men’s work he experienced recovery and found creative expression in improv, community theater, and writing. Now, he lives in Denver, Colorado where he mentors, serves on the Board of the Edgewater Collective, and delivers keynotes on the subject of legacy, leadership, and eudeamonia.      

Author of Icarus and the Wingbuilder


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Suicide Prevention Through Peer Support Collaboration

“I’m seriously considering suicide.”  Words a Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) group facilitator least likes to hear.  Hand the person a hot line number?  Show empathy?  Share experiences that show depression and the life experiences leading to it aren’t hopeless?  Cut off talk of suicide methods?  Reinforce that the group members care about the person?  Refer to a psychiatrist?  All of these and many other strategies may be appropriate for the specific individual and group.  Similarly for suicide prevention organizations, the challenges are similar in that they cannot cover all potential strategies themselves, for instance the power of shared experience.  To improve the capabilities of both organizations, the DBSA support groups in  Denver and Aurora, Colorado are beginning a partnership with the Carson J Spencer Foundation in Denver.

Photo by Craig Miller
The Foundation is seeking collaborative efforts designed to shift culture and make suicide prevention a health and safety priority in our communities.  The aspiration is that Zero Suicides should be the goal (what other number is appropriate?) and that including peers from groups like DBSA is a critical element of the suicide prevention movement.  There are numerous opportunities for including peer support.  Providing and receiving help from peers with similar experiences helps counteract risk factors for suicidal behavior such as hopelessness, impulsiveness, isolation, shame, and symptoms of mental health disorders.  Connectedness of family and friends to the individual and prevention organizations is a common thread that weaves together many of the influences of suicidal behavior and has direct relevance for prevention.  Additionally family and friends need additional support due to the stress of the individual’s suicidal feelings and/or attempt.  It has been shown that prevention and recovery should be person centered and peer support offers one opportunity to do so.  Early intervention by peers and professionals working in parallel is another powerful prevention tool.

Research and delivery method development offer other opportunities for joint work to enhance the results.  Differences of survivors of suicide attempts by gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation, geography and community is a critical area for research.  Development of protocols for addressing safety and crisis planning should be based on principles of informed and collaborative care.  Dovetailing suicide prevention methods with treatment of post traumatic stress disorder is being shown to improve results given the high number of suicide attempt victims with PTSD.  Creation and promotion of crisis respite care centers, appears to benefit significantly from the employment of peer providers.  Training peer specialists to assist in the delivery of emergency crisis centers improves the services.

There are a number of good resources in the area.  A few of them include:

·         The Way Forward, Pathways to hope, recovery and wellness with insights from lived experience;
·         Zero Suicide in Health and Behavioral Health Care; and
·         Suicide Prevention and Mood Disorders (DBSA brochure).

Let’s bring together the suicide prevention advocates, clinicians, researchers and people with lived experience with suicidal thoughts and behavior because “together, we’re better!”


About the Authors:  
As a psychologist, mental health advocate, and survivor of her brother’s suicide, Sally Spencer-Thomas sees suicide prevention, intervention and postvention from many perspectives.  She is currently the CEO and Co-Founder for the Carson J Spencer Foundation ( and the Survivor of Loss Division Director for the American Association of Suicidology.  

Paul Henrion is a DBSA group facilitator at Samaritan House, a Catholic Charities homeless shelter.  His group has included numerous individuals who have attempted or are contemplating suicide.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Carson J Spencer Foundation Funds Youth Social Enterprises to Prevent Suicide

David Bornstein, author, said “What business entrepreneurs are to the economy, social entrepreneurs are to social change. They are driven, creative individuals who question the status quo, exploit new opportunities, refuse to give up, and remake the world for the better.” This year classrooms all across the state of Colorado competed in the 7th annual “FIRE Within Business Plan Competition” to do exactly that. For an entire year, students across the state work to develop businesses that look at a double bottom line -- garnering both a profit and making an impact in the community. The students participate in the FIRE Within, a year-long, innovative curriculum from the Carson J Spencer Foundation. They’re taught how to develop a product or service that will generate revenue while also addressing a root cause of student distress. Because the program has grown so large, this year the competition was divided into two parts: new businesses competition and returning businesses competition. Business community leaders from all over Denver volunteered as judges for the competition, which included representation from Colorado State Bank and Trust, Johns Manville, Denver Fire Department, Centennial PEAKS, Sky Blue Builders, Daniels Fund, CoBiz, Highlands Behavioral Health, First Bank, Mountain States Employers Council and so many more. Both competitions took place in the board room of Ireland Stapleton.

“What is great about the program is that it is not your standard business plan competition; instead it is a challenge to the students to develop innovative ideas to address a serious issue in an entrepreneurial and sustainable way,” Matt Mason, Senior Vice President at Colorado State Bank and Trust, said.

Returning Business First Place Winner
Green Mountain High School
In the returning business category, the finalists were George Washington High School from Denver Public Schools, Highlands Ranch High School from Douglas County School District, and Green Mountain High School from Jefferson County Public Schools. Highlands Ranch High School won second place with an award of $350 for their business idea to create a Memorial Life Garden and sell “Life Boxes” (creative planers) from it. Green Mountain High School won first place for an award of $500 for their business idea to create a workbook for elementary age kids called, “Dear Parents from Kids: Let’s Talk about Mental Health.”

“The students’ enthusiasm to educate not only their peers but also adults around them was contagious,” said Debbie Ryan, Chief Human Resources and Communications Officer at Johns Manville. “It was great to see future leaders stepping forward to tackle what can be a difficult subject and speaking openly about the challenges of being a teenager today.”

New Business First Place Winner
Thornton High School
In the new business competition, Thornton High School from Adams 12 School District, Aurora Central High from Aurora Public Schools, and Plum Creek Academy from Douglas County School District were showcased. Each of the participating schools created innovative approaches to suicide prevention in their schools and communities. Aurora Central High took second place for $350. Thornton High won first place for $500 for their business of branded water bottles that have coping strategies written on them to help students learn other ways to deal with stress.

 “Their willingness to take that step and just communicate is the proof that the FIRE Within program will have a lasting impact on all those that are involved,” said Mason.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Confronting the Real Enemy: Why We Should Be Talking about Stigma

Photo Credit: Google Images
Op-Ed Piece written by CJSF Employee and Guest Blogger: Jess Stohlmann-Rainey

When incidents like the Germanwings plane crash happen, I have to put my mental armor on. I have to prepare to defend myself as a person living with a mental health condition and my work as a suicide prevention advocate. I get ready for everything from microaggressions to outright bigotry. One of the most challenging dynamics as a suicide prevention worker, mental health advocate, and person living with a mental health condition is the pervasive and dangerous hold that stigma about mental illness has on the minds of the public. These paradigms mark people with mental health conditions as unpredictable, untreatable, and dangerous. On a good day, this can be an annoyance. On a bad day, it can be paralyzing or even life-threatening.

Why people die by suicide is complex, but it is not mysterious or unpredictable. Many people have devoted their careers to exploring exactly these issues. People die by suicide because conditions in their life have led them to feel alone, like they are a burden, and have acquired the capacity to die. If you want to learn more about this “why” question, the knowledge is out there. I recommend reading Dr. Thomas Joiner’s work or the American Association of Suicidology’s Journal, Suicide & Life Threatening Behavior.

Following tragedies like the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash, most media coverage focuses on “why?” and looks for the most sensational answer. The desire to understand why tragic events occur makes a lot of sense to me. The truth is we are unlikely to discover every detail about an individual’s decision to die by suicide, especially if we begin looking after their death. We are never going to know the perfect storm of conditions that led to this tragedy; we will never be able to catalog exactly what went through Andreas Lubitz’ mind before his death. More importantly, we are likely asking the wrong questions. What we do uncover when we look for these answers, tells us more about a broken culture around mental health than about the events that occurred.

Each year, 800,000 people in the world die by suicide (WHO). That is the equivalent of at least five Boeing 747 jets crashing and killing all 416 passengers every single day. Over one hundred of those passengers would be U.S. citizens (CDC). This doesn’t even begin to address suicide attempts, which are happening at 25 times the rate of deaths. Where is the public outcry? Why isn’t our media appalled by these tragedies? Who decided that these lives lost are less news-worthy?

The death of Andreas Lubitz has awakened powerful responses from the public, ranging from grief to outrage. I believe much of this response has been misplaced.

We should be feeling the poignant loss of each person that dies in isolation and despair. Every 40 seconds, we should feel the grief of yet another preventable death. There should be heartbreak over the hundreds of thousands of people who agonize silently through suicidal intensity. We should be grieving for the survivors whose worlds are radically altered by these losses.

There should be outrage. We should be angered to our very core that so many people are suffering and dying alone and afraid. We should be irate that people who have diagnosable and treatable health conditions are so afraid of the consequences of disclosure that help is beyond their reach. We should be horrified that stigma is so deeply ingrained in our cultures that preventable deaths are occurring again and again.

And after we feel all of these things, we need to act.

Speak up when you hear shaming, blaming, or discriminatory language used about people living with mental health conditions.

Challenge the media to use the resources available to them to cover suicide and mental health safely and with compassion.

Use our voices and votes to tell our governments to treat these issues like they are important public health concerns. Tell them to provide funding for and collect data about mental health, suicide, and prevention strategies.

Demand that our prisons and criminal justice system reform to provide support and recovery opportunities for the 70% of inmates who need treatment instead of using incarceration as a form of social control.

Advocate for our young people by helping schools and youth development programs implement best practice suicide prevention and mental health promotion programs that will change the culture of stigma for future generations.

Create workplaces that can be spaces of productivity and connectedness, safe guarding employees and connecting them to early effective care so they do not become a part of the 70% of suicide decedents who are working aged.

Use discourse to engage your friends and family in productive conversations about mental health and suicide. Focus on hope, help, and resources. One hundred one-minute conversations can change the world.

Put on your armor with me. Every minute of our inaction is costing people their lives. We need to stop responding to deaths after they have already happened. We need to stop looking for someone to blame. It is time to take responsibility for the culture we have been creating. It is time to confront the real enemy head on.


Jess Stohlmann Rainey is CJSF's Senior Program Director. Prior to coming to CJSF, Jess was a youth worker and advocate for five years, and previously managed sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy and LGBT youth center programs. Her work focused on skill and leadership development to improve the life skills of underrepresented groups as well as advocating for policy and cultural change within political and educational institutions. Jess has presented nationally at conferences on topics of youth engagement, leadership, gender, sexuality and violence prevention strategies. 

She holds a B.A. in English, Women’s Studies and Cultural Studies from the University of Northern Colorado, and an unconferred M.A. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.