Wednesday, March 30, 2016

9 Tips For Better Sleep Hygiene

By Emily Alvarez

Photo by Flickr user Justine
Sleep is as important to our health as breathing, eating or drinking. It helps our body repair itself and our brains to associate our memories and process information. Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Also, if you're sleep deprived and tired, your brain has a harder time absorbing new information.

Besides, you're not "you" when you don't get enough sleep. And no one likes a grumpy and cranky person.

Getting good sleep is important to maintaining health. Sleep hygiene is the practices and habits people use to help them sleep well on a regular basis.

Here are 9 things you can do to promote good sleep:

1. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time (+/- 20 minutes). Having a consistent schedule will keep your body regulated.

2. Exercise regularly. Exercise promotes continuous sleep, but don't exercise less than three hours before bedtime.

3. Have a quiet, comfortable bedroom. Set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature. Turn off the TV and any other inessential noises. If your pets bug you during the night, leave them outside the bedroom. Keep your bedroom dark. Have a comfortable mattress.

4. Have a comfortable pre-bedtime routine. Take a warm bath or shower. Make time to meditate or just have quiet time.

5. Try to avoid naps. Every person needs a certain amount of sleep per 24-hour period. Naps take away the time you need the next night, which can in turn cause difficulty falling asleep or insomnia.

6. Don't read or watch TV in bed. The bed is reserved for two things: sleep and sex. Doing anything in bed other than those will make your brain associate your bed with wakefulness.

7. Avoid stimulants like coffee, nicotine, or alcohol. These things can disrupt your body's rhythm and disrupt your sleep.

8. Don't stay awake for more than 5-10 minutes. Only go to bed when you are actually tired. Get out of bed if you're unable to fall asleep.

9. Don't eat too much before going to bed. Food can be disruptive right before sleep. But don't go to bed hungry, either. If you're hungry, eat a light, healthy snack.

As you can see, there are plenty of things you can do to get a good night's sleep. Not only will your body thank you, but your brain will too.

For more information and tips on sleep hygiene, read this handout.


Mrs. Alvarez graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Public Relations and is now leading communication efforts at the Carson J Spencer Foundation. She coordinates all social media initiatives for this Denver-based nonprofit known for innovation in suicide prevention. In addition, she facilitates the outreach efforts to local and national media by creating and distributing press releases, blogs, and youtube videos. She has a passion for the mental health movement because her family has a history of mental health issues, and she had a  friend die by suicide when in high school. In 2009, she earned the highest award -- The Gold Award -- from the Girl Scouts and was in an honors fraternity in college.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Stephanie Crookston: My Journey to Find Meaning After My Friend/Roommate's Suicide

By Emily Alvarez

Stories of lived experience can be used to fight the stigma of mental illness and suicide and to help get people involved in the movement. These journeys humanize the suicide prevention movement and help other people seek help. This series on lived experience is a great chance to highlight a loss survivor's story and the search for meaning after loss.

Stephanie Crooskton has been a part of our organization for a while now, whether she volunteers in our office, at our gala, or works as a FIRE Within Educator for us. She lost a friend and roommate two years ago and has been making meaning out of the loss ever since. There is a wrestling event this weekend in memory of Jack, so we wanted to share Stephanie's story of finding meaning through loss. This is her story:

Jack had this wonderful gift, of walking into the room and being the light that everyone was drawn to. To say he was "larger than life" is an understatement. Jack lived and breathed to the beat of his own drummer and very seldom conformed to the societal norms that are so often pushed on all of us. One of the things that I admired so much about Jack was that he followed his dreams and he was persistent in them. He loved wresting and his dream was to be a wrestler in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). One of the first times I ever met Jack, was at a wrestling show in Loveland. My husband, Logan, has known Jack since kindergarten and this wrestling match was one of Logan and my first dates--and I will never forget it. Jack has such an intense presence on the stage and I was immediately impressed with the person he was both on and off stage from the get go. In the four years that followed, I would get to know Jack in the fashion I will forever remember him as--a wonderful person.
It felt like Jack's death rocked the foundation on which all of us stood. For so many of his friends and family, the shock of his death was unreal and hard to swallow. The outpouring of love and support for Jack in his time leading up to his death is a testament to how important he was to all of us in his life. Jack was a friend long before his death and he continues to be honored every day by those he impacted, inspired, and those who are continuing to pursue their dreams, in spite of perceived expectations and barriers.
I personally honor his memory by working with and volunteering at the Carson J Spencer Foundation to teach others about suicide prevention. I have taken training courses, been appointed to Chair of the Suicide Prevention Task Group at the Mental Health Center of Denver, became a FIRE Within Educator, QPR and Working Minds Trainer, among many other things. I have helped bring suicide awareness into many facets of my personal and professional life. I learned the signs of suicide and how to talk to someone about suicide. I made it my mission to save at least one person. I know I have saved more than one life because of what I have learned in the past two years since his death. The road has not been easy because suicide is not an easy topic to broach. I have felt defeated and burnt out. I have wanted to give up. 
Then I think of Jack and how we he was in life and how he never gave up on his dream to be a wrestler. He was doing something, despite the set backs and the "No's." So I wake up every morning and think to myself, I will honor Jack's life by doing more with mine.
For me, I found it almost impossible to get past the guilt I felt. The self-loathing grew and grew in forms of he was living with you, how could you miss the signs? and you are a mental health professional, why/how could you not see it? and you should have looked at your phone sooner and you would read the text message and maybe he could have been saved. I woke up in the days and months after his death believing with 100% certainty that I had failed him. I told others that were close to him we're not at fault, Jack had made his choice, and that he knew you loved him, and a whole host of other things. I believed what I told these individuals because I shouldered all of the blame in my mind. As unrealistic and foolish as it sounds to people, that is exactly how I felt. My husband and I had taken him into our home, helped him find a job, spent time with him watching Wrestle Mania DVDs, and told him he had our love and support, but to me all of that wasn't enough. It did not matter to me what we had done. I had failed him. I had let him down. I had not been good enough for him.
It was amazing the response I got from others that I had shared my struggles with. It is true that I didn't know him as well and as long as so many others and I struggled with that thought all the time! When I wasn't thinking about how much of a better friend I could have been, I spent other times thinking that I did not know him for that long, I should have been able to stay objective and should have been in a position to help him more! I got trapped in thoughts that seemed endless, always finding a reason to hate myself more and more as the days went by.
I felt like he was around all the time after his death. Cabinets would randomly close. Loud creaks in the floor above our heads. The feeling of someone looking over your shoulder. The brief moment of a figure in your peripheral. I saw Jack or felt Jack's presence everywhere I went.
One of the first things that brought me comfort were people I never met who were good friends of Jack's. On the night Jack posted his note on Facebook, his friends rallied together and tried to find him. The amount of love that came out of something so horrific has always helped me with the grieving process. While the outcome was not what anyone wanted, it was a testament to how far people are willing to go for the people they love in this world. Especially for those who are effected by suicide or thoughts of suicide. The things friends and family have done since that moment to honor Jack's life, continue to be inspiring and moving. 
My family was supportive. Just allowing me to talk and help me grieve as they sat with me. My husband, Logan, gave me a lot of support. He listened when I cried, he validated my fears, and he never faltered in his own grief to help me with working through mine. I remember him looking up at me and saying Stephanie, you can't change what happened to Jack. While he had said that numerous times before, that last time it clicked. I needed to make sense of this tragic situation. I had to figure it out. I went back to work, greeted by love and support. Coworkers would sit in my office and let me just cry. They let me talk about it. Talking about it helped a lot, it took me a long time to not cry when I talked about it. 
Sometimes, even now, I can't hold back the tears. I miss him.
It was not until I picked up a booked called Why People Die by Suicide by Thomas Joiner, that I was able to start putting things into perspective. The book helped me make sense of some of the things I was going through. It helped me gain acceptance of my reality and live with this new normal. Around the time of Jack's death, Kevin Briggs had a TED talk about the Golden Gate Bridge and how he saved lives. This talk helped me to learn about other people's journeys and partially inspired me to work with a local a nonprofit--the Carson J Spencer Foundation. I learned so much about suicide prevention and continue to grow in my knowledge and understanding suicide through Carson J Spencer Foundation. Since those moments, I have dedicated as much of my available time spreading awareness for suicide prevention.
The thought of Jack still brings tears to my eyes, when I talk about him with other people I cry, and I still have a hard time watching WWE clips as they so often remind me of him. But more often than not, I am able to embrace that grief and use it to impact a life. Working with the Carson J Spencer Foundation has given my life meaning and purpose on a level I never anticipated. Talking about suicide, asking the hard questions, and supporting those in times of crisis has made me a better person. It has helped me be more aware of those around me and their potential struggles which has increased my understanding and patience. It astounds me how many people have been touched by suicide and how so many of us (myself included) do not know what to do, or how to ask those questions. I chose to make meaning of my life this way because of the strangers I met and connected with in the years after Jack's death. The stories of resilience that flooded into my world and touched me on such a profound level changed the meaning of my grief from guilt and sadness to purpose and motivation.
I hope Jack is proud of all the work I have done. I hope he has heard my speaking to professionals about how suicide prevention matters. I think Jack would be most proud of the fact that I have not given up on suicide prevention. Suicide prevention does not seem like something that people can get excited about. It is scary, uncertain, and tragic when it happens. But, when I think of suicide and I think of Jack, I more often than not think of hope, too. Hope changes the game in suicide--heck pretty much anything. Hope creates a future. A future for a stranger, a future for a friend, a legacy.
That's what I hope I have done and that's what Jack's most proud of, creating a legacy for hope even when the story starts in tragedy.
Suicide leaves so many questions and it is hard to make sense of. Not many people know what to do, what to say, what NOT to say, and most of all they will have no idea how to help. I had to ask people to just listen because talking about it would help me as long as I could just say what I needed to say and not be met by advice or common methods of encouragement like God has a plan and everything happens for a reason. That was sometimes comforting but not always. 
Later on down the road, you might find yourself thinking of them at the oddest times and you will have a physical and emotional reaction to it, whatever it may be. And that's normal. Grief is not something you can put on a timer and you will be all better in the next 6 months. This is tough stuff to deal with and if you are struggling, do not suffer in silence or alone. There are resources to help you whether it be a book, counseling, friends, and/or family.
 You are loved and you matter. Do not give up on your own hope. Whatever that hope is, never stop hoping for happiness, for acceptance, to see them again, to make them proud, to change the world, to save a life.
Don't give up on hope.
 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 elevated 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. For more information,please visit

Jack Zaler was one of the most popular pro-wrestlers in Colorado. He traveled the country, and was seen on WWE at one point in his career. His death in January of 2014 was a shock to his friends and fans, and left a hole that could never be filled by anyone else. Its a story I'm sure you've heard many times: that he was always smiling and doing everything he could to make everyone laugh, so very few people knew about his battle with depression.

Primos Pro-Wrestling is hosting a memorial event, honoring the life of pro-wrestler, Jack Zaler. The memorial show will be held on Sunday, March 13th at 7:00 pm at the Watering Bowl, located at 5411 Leetsdale Drive. The purpose of the event is to celebrate the life of a man who was loved by many, including former WWE start Matt Sydal (who is working pro-bono in memory of his friend). It is equally important for this event to raise awareness of depression in the wrestling world, hopefully leading both performers and fans to recognize the signs of depression, and to know it is okay to seek treatment. Doors open at 6:30 pm, the event starts at 7:00 pm. Tickets are $10 and are sold at the door.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Attorney Leadership Roundtable on Suicide Prevention

On January 21, 2016, a group of over sixty judges and lawyers from the Colorado legal community convened at the Colorado Supreme Court to begin discussions around the topic of suicide within the profession, including Chief Justice Nancy Rice, former Chief Justice Michael Bender, CBA President Loren Brown and Jim Coyle, Attorney Regulation Counsel in addition to numerous judges and lawyers from around the state. Moderated by Barbara Ezyk, Executive Director of the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program, these leaders were called to action to break down the walls of stigma and address this very real problem in Colorado.

Planning committee partners from Ireland Stapleton, Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program, Colorado Lawyers Helping Lawyers, and the Carson J Spencer Foundation developed this forum with the goal to help attorneys in Colorado elevate the conversation and make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. Leaders within legal community are uniquely poised to lead the charge by opening the dialogue, combating stigma with stories of hope and recovery, and implementing sweeping changes to support not only the legal professionals but also the clients they serve.

After hearing personal and professional experiences with mental health conditions and suicide, the group was led by Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas through strategies to support comprehensive suicide prevention within the legal community, ranging from "upstream" mental health promotion, "midstream" early and effective intervention, and "downstream" crisis intervention and grief support after a suicide death.

Attendees then broke into smaller groups to discuss in-depth ideas for change and to identify first steps on the journey to turning the tides against suicide within the legal profession in Colorado.

Longer-term recommendations from the groups included:

  • Educational and communication programs that develop awareness about mental health and suicide in law school and provide resources and reassurance to young lawyers
  • Leadership can take an active role to (including Regulation Counsel) send the message about and model self-care and promote use of mental health resources, "here to help, not just discipline"
  • Mentoring program
  • Incentivized mental health wellness practices
  • Develop a bench book on how to identify problems among colleagues and specific intervention skills for lawyers needing professional care.
  • Skill training specifically designed to help lawyers have critical conversations with peers about mental health, substance abuse, and suicide (CLE).
  • Policy development on when and how to report concerns
  • Health and wellness campaigns that include screening for depression
  • Stronger connection between Bar Associations and full spectrum of mental health resources
  • Specific crisis response practices for firms dealing with the aftermath of a suicide or suicide attempt
  • Promotion of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Immediate call to action:
  1. To establish a committee to design a statewide comprehensive and sustained strategy for suicide prevention for the attorney profession.
  2. To build capacity through on-going skill development training and consultation for larger firms and bar associations.
  3. To continue to develop statewide communication tactics promoting resources and awareness.
For more information contact: