Friday, November 20, 2015

Diane Saslow: My Journey to Find Meaning After My Daughter's Suicide

By Emily Alvarez

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is the one day a year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope. We have learned that stories of lived experience are one of the best ways to fight the stigma of mental illness and suicide and to help get people involved in the movement. In honor of Survivor Day, we have chosen to highlight the story of a survivor who has made significant contributions to the field by investing her time, making financial contributions, and providing of emotional support to other survivors.

Diane Saslow lost her daughter, Emily, to suicide ten years ago. This is her story:

Emily Saslow was/is a daughter, sister, cousin, and friend to many.  She died by suicide on October 17, 2005 at 26 years old.  Emily was the one who always was smiling and laughing in any picture taken of her.  She is also the one in the group who lived with unrelenting mental illness, an illness she fought against for most if not all of her 26 years. 
Emily Saslow
Emily packed a lot of living into her 26 years. She excelled at school, college and law school – she participated in sports, she spent many years taking modern dance lessons and performed with a junior dance troop in Denver, she travelled and had a wide circle of friends.  Even while nurturing and enjoying friendships Emily had a tough time with interactions with people.  She constantly fought against terrible low self-esteems mainly because her illness kept her from understanding how exceptional she was.  She hid her insecurities well, and what a struggle that must have been for her. She loved the law and enjoyed her years in law school and she spent many holidays travelling all over the world with friends. I am very proud of Emily for managing to live for 26 years. 
Emily’s suicide was done with great intention.  It was not a gesture gone awry.  At 26 years old she wanted out of this life and she researched the methods that would allow her to leave.  
Even though it is 10 years after her death, I don’t think my mourning has ended.  There is a space that will never be filled in my heart and head, and there will always be an empty chair wherever I am.  I no longer go to the phone to call her to tell her something funny or interesting, I just play it in my head and am soothed by my one sided conversations with her.
Emily fought valiantly against this illness from a very young age.  She had therapy and medication.  Emily died from a disease.  Just like people who die from cancer or heart ailments. Like many parents who have lost a child to an illness, I have spent the ten years since her death working to do my part to prevent this from happening to others. I do the best I can to help those with depression have the courage to get help, and be very honest during treatment when they do get help. 
Diane and Emily Saslow at a wedding
I continue to make meaning of my loss by speaking to high school and college students and supporting the FIRE Within program.  I have also participated in the annual American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Community Walks, raising funds for research and programs that help to erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide.  I co-facilitate a monthly Survivors of Suicide support group where I give direction and hope to others who are newly walking this difficult path after losing a loved one to suicide.  Emily always helped others; she taught dance at an afterschool program to elementary school students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to experience learn about the world of modern dance and all it can open for people. 
I hope the work I am doing in the suicide prevention world is work that she would be proud of. 
When I speak with people who are recent survivors of a loved one’s suicide I am gentle. I try to communicate that however they are feeling, they will feel differently months and years down the road.  They will not feel better, but they will feel different. Once they acclimate to their “new normal” they will enjoy life’s daily pleasures, even though it seems impossible to believe that early in the grieving and mourning process.  And most of all they will never lose or leave their dead loved one behind; they will take them with them on their healing path – because getting better does not mean losing your relationship with the dead.

The effects of a suicide loss are long-lasting and far-reaching.  Many survivors look for ways to make meaning out of their loss and celebrate the life of their loved one. There are many wonderful organizations that provide life-saving suicide prevention programming. The Carson J Spencer Foundation elevates the conversation to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. Through a variety of prevention programs, Carson J Spencer Foundation is changing the face of suicide loss. Whether you partner with our organization, or another, we encourage you to get involved. Giving a gift, in memory of a loved one lost, can help create the meaning that so many seek.

On December 8th, Colorado will celebrate a statewide day of giving – Colorado Gives Day.  On December 8th, your gifts go further, thanks to a $1,000,000 incentive fund created by Community First Foundation and FirstBank.  To schedule a Colorado Gives Day gift to the Carson J Spencer Foundation, please visit

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 perspectives.

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