Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Social Justice Movement: Call to Action to Suicide Loss Survivors

You are the heart of a movement.

Sally Spencer-Thomas
You have always been the heart of this movement. When the funding dries up and the leaders focus on other priorities, you are still carrying the flag of suicide prevention and bereavement support. Your unwavering dedication and passion has moved the most formidable mountains blocking the way of progress.

If you are recently bereaved, your main goal now is finding connection and healing. Along your journey you may (or may not) find a fire in your belly to “do something” to make a difference in the aftermath of your loss. You may find yourself leaning in to the conversation of advocacy, education and change. Take slow steps – try volunteering or participating in events and see how it feels before committing to a major endeavor. Be realistic about your capacity and goals, and first and foremost, take care of yourself. Your health and the well-being of your loved ones are of primary importance. 

Too often the newly bereaved jump into advocacy work right away only to feel the sting of slow progress and multiple setbacks. The movement needs you, but you decide what the right role for you to play is.

If you have been one of many suicide loss survivors who have been working in advocacy and education for a while, I have a different call to action for you: extend your hand and reach out to those involved in the suicide attempt survivor movement. Joining our voices of lived experience – of despair, loss and recovery – we can have unprecedented influence to create positive change. No longer should we operate in silos; we have a similar vision – a world free of the tragedy of suicide. 

Consider these action steps:

Listen. Listen to the powerful stories of suicide attempt survivors’ journeys in recovery and lift their voices and leadership. Read the “Way Forward” guidelines published by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Survivors of Suicide Attempts Task Force.

Collaborate. Find ways to align the goals of suicide loss survivors and suicide attempt survivors. Bring stakeholders together with clinicians and researchers to have honest and open conversations about how best to support one another. Find common ground in healing practices and advocacy initiatives.

Influence. Bring the voices of all the survivors – loss and attempt – together to help shape the conversation, in the media, with our elected officials, and in our education and training efforts.

Photo by Flickr user Agnisoonu K
Together, we’re better.

NOTE: As I am about to complete my second term as Survivor of Loss Division Director, this will be my last blog from this position. I am passionate about creating an inclusive and progressive home for suicide loss and attempt survivors, researchers, advocates, and clinicians. Please, contact me about your thoughts on what we as a field can do better to bring people together as a united voice for positive change.

About the Author:  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 AAS. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Volunteering: Not Just Good for Companies, But Good for Your Health

Guest Blog by Emily Alvarez

Volunteers are sometimes the lifeblood of an organization. Not only are they there when you need them, but they are also willing to jobs that other people can’t. Volunteering is not only great for companies, but it’s also great for the volunteer’s mental health. Here are four reasons volunteering is great for the body.

1. Increases your social and relationship skills

Not everyone is naturally outgoing, there are people who are shy and have trouble meeting new people. Volunteering allows those people an outlet to meet new people. It also give volunteers the opportunity to develop and practice their social skills. Once they get going, it’ll be easier to make more friends and contacts.

2. Increases self-confidence

Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to self-esteem and self-confidence. Doing good work for the community provides natural senses of accomplishment. A volunteer may also feel pride and identity due to their volunteer role. The better a volunteer feels about themselves, the more positive they will feel about their life and future.

3. Combats depression

A huge risk factor to depression is social isolation. Volunteering keeps folks in contact with others regularly and also helps develop a solid support system. This support system will help protect from stress and depression during challenging times.

4. Helps people stay physically healthy

Volunteering can be good for health at any age, but it is especially good for older adults. Those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. It can also lessen symptoms of heart disease or chronic pain.

Whether a person volunteers at an animal shelter or a non-profit, volunteering if good for health. So take some time and volunteer. Not only is it a great way to show support to an organization or cause, but it’s also healthy.

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Carson J Spencer Foundation, please go to to learn about our volunteering opportunities.

Emily Alvarez is the Administrative Assistant at the Carson J Spencer Foundation. She enjoys reading good books, writing awesome posts, and working in suicide prevention. Originally from California, she fully embraces being a Coloradoan. She has her Bachelor of Science in Public Relations from San Jose State University.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Winners Announced in Student Enterprise of the Year Competition

“The big investments of tomorrow need not be on the stock exchange. They need to be in our schools.” – Sharad Vivek Sagar, founder and CEO of Dexterity Global. This year, high school youth across Colorado, Massachusetts and San Francisco showed that business skills can solve social ills. Through a partnership with the Carson J Spencer Foundation’s FIRE Within program, approximately 1,000 teens developed businesses that both generated revenue while addressing a root cause of suicide and suicidal despair.  This spring, two schools were awarded Social Enterprise of the Year in recognition of their ability to generate profit while creating an impact in the way of youth suicide and awareness efforts.

Since August 2014 40 schools competed in the 7th annual “FIRE Within Social Enterprise of the Year “competition. In a classroom for credit entrepreneurship and business leadership students worked to create a sustainable business that could make a profit and make a substantial community impact. Since the program has become so large, the competition was divided into two parts this year: new businesses and returning businesses. Business leaders across the U.S. donated their time and knowledge to judge the submitted business plans, including representatives from Johns Manville, Denver Fire Department, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Bank of West, Pacific Mercantile Bank, and Wells Fargo.

“Really, it's been both humbling and inspiring to be a judge in this competition.” Christopher Lierle, volunteer business consultant from Houston and competition judge, said. “It's provided me the opportunity see the students overcome obstacles and conquer this huge task - a challenge that seems more like a graduate school exercise than something high school students could successfully complete.”

Rangeview High School FIRE Within Students

The award for Social Enterprise of the Year in the returning business category was won by Aurora’s Rangeview High School Period 4, led by FIRE Educator Sam Provenzano. After learning students were overwhelmed by academic stress, Rangeview students did two things to tackle the problem. First they created necklaces that had a crystal on it and a note that said “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow” with the suicide hotline number included. The second part was hosting a carnival where the Denver Fire Department, Carson J Spencer Foundation, and the school’s counselors participated to inform students about suicide and mental health awareness. They had games, donated food, and raffle items for students to partake in.

Walpole High School FIRE Within Students
The award for Social Enterprise of the Year in the new business category was awarded to Walpole High School in Massachusetts, led by FIRE Educator Sarah Gaer. Walpole High decided to start a business creating planners after learning students in their school were stressed due to 75% of the student body participating in one or more extra-curricular activities. The Rebel Planner has customizable aspects for students wanting to express their individuality while also including resources available to students if they need assistance.

The student's understanding of the needs of their peers and their entrepreneurial solutions to develop communication and fight stigma give me great hope that we can put an end to death by suicide amongst our youth through the efforts and ideas of our youth.” Dafna Michaelson Jenet, President, The Journey Institute and competition judge, said.