Friday, March 3, 2017

Keeping On, Keeping Strong

Our Dear Friends, Partners, Colleagues, Supporters, and Believers,

The Carson J. Spencer Foundation is doing some staff reorganization, our marketplace and clients are changing and growing and we want to be sure that we service this community in the most effective and efficient manner.  We will be making changes to our program lineup so that we may sharpen our focus on those that provide the most impact.

Our CEO and Co-Founder, Sally Spencer-Thomas, has decided to expand her influence in a different direction and will be concentrating on speaking and evangelizing suicide prevention on a national and international basis.  To accomplish this goal, she has decided to leave the Foundation in the good hands of the Staff and Board of Directors.

We are excited at this opportunity to step back and take a serious look at the needs of our marketplace and provide the appropriate programs. We ask your patience as we navigate through this transition, we very much appreciate your past and future support of our organization and cause. We are happy to answer any questions you may have. You may contact Chris Habgood ( for partnership opportunities, Heidi Lightenburger ( for program delivery and information on workplace suicide prevention and postvention, and Emily Alvarez ( for administrative and operations questions. As always, our Board of Directors can be reached at


The Staff and Board of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation

Support our Suicide Prevention Efforts: Donate here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Feminism and Suicide Twitter Chat: 2/2 at 6:00 pm MST

On February 2nd (5:00 pm PT, 6:00 pm MT, 7:00 pm CT, and 8:00 pm ET), the Carson J Spencer Foundation is hosting a Twitter chat about how gender has affected the suicide prevention movement and how best to reach the large groups of people left behind. The Carson J Spencer Foundation, known for innovation in suicide prevention, is also known for their commitment of seeing suicide prevention as a social justice issue.

Suicidal behavior and suicidal intensity show up differently across gender. Men die by suicide much more frequently than women, women attempt suicide much more frequently than men, and our data about trans* people is limited. The perspective that men bear the burden of suicide has shaped our research, funding, interventions, and programs. When preventing death is no longer centered in the practice of suicide prevention, we open space for diversity of voices.

To participate, simply follow #ElevateTheConvo for the duration of the chat and be sure to use the same hashtag in your questions and responses.


Stacy Pershall: Stacy Pershall is an accomplished author who lives with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and who struggled with eating disorders for twenty years. Since discovering dialectical behavior therapy and body modification, Stacy has been an outspoken mental health advocate who is committed to showing audiences that people with BPD can recover and body modification can be a healing agent.

Stacy is the author of Loud in the House of Myself (W.W. Norton, 2011) and is currently working on her second book. She also teaches creative writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop (New York City) and Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (online), and blogs regularly for Psychology Today. Stacy is a belly dancer, cat lady, and fierce knitter and crocheter. @LoudInTheHouse

Greta Gustava Martela: Greta Gustava Martela is the co-founder and Executive Director of Trans Lifeline. Ms. Martela has drawn on her own experience with suicidality to create a resource that is able to respond to the needs of the Trans community. Prior to Trans Lifeline, Ms. Martela worked as a software engineer. @GretaGustava

Jess Stohlmann-Rainey: Jess Stohlmann-Rainey, MA, is the Senior Program Director at the Carson J Spencer Foundation. She has spent her career in violence prevention, currently leading innovative programming that elevates the conversation to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. Previously, she managed sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy as well as LGBT youth empowerment and school safety programs. Her specialties include designing and scaling sustainable programs, upstream approaches to prevention work, and empowering leaders to create positive change in the places we live, work, and learn. Jess has presented and trained nationally and internationally about suicide and violence prevention, diversity, and leadership, and is a contributing author to Postvention in Action, a currently unreleased suicide postvention anthology. As a suicide attempt survivor, survivor of loss, and person living with a mental health condition, Jess integrates her lived expertise into her work in advocacy, research, training, and program development.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Winter Blues

By Sally Spencer-Thomas, CEO & Co-Founder, Carson J Spencer Foundation

Photo by land[e]scape
For some, winter is a time of celebration – the holidays, winter sports, beautiful snowy landscapes, and a reason to drink hot chocolate. For others, the shortened days bring on something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For people who experience SAD, otherwise known as the “Winter Blues,” they find their symptoms of mild depression start in the fall and end as the sun shines for more hours in the spring. People who live farther from the equator are more likely to feel the effects of shorter days. According to the American Family Physician, about 6% experience severe SAD and up to 20% may experience a milder form of the disorder.
Common symptoms include:

  • Lack of energy that is not fixed by increased sleep
  • Upset mood: irritability, sadness, mood swings, anxiety
  • Lose interest in your usual activities
  • Weight gain from increased carbohydrate craving
  • Distraction and decreased ability to cope with stress

What causes SAD? How can it be treated?
Sunlight affects our biological rhythms and our sleeping and hunger schedules. When we lose our ability to access sunlight, our “biological clock” is disrupted. Furthermore, sunlight affects one of our main mood chemicals, serotonin, the brain chemical that impacts sexual desire, feelings of well-being, sleep, memory and even the way we interact with one another.

Thus, treatment for SAD can involve light therapy, counseling, and medications. It also means making a conscious effort to get outdoors when there is sunlight.

Here, the Mayo Clinic offers more information on treatment and home remedies.

What is the relationship between SAD and suicide?

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi
There is a myth that the winter holidays and “winter blues” increase the risk for suicide. Many inadvertently may increase risk by perpetuating this myth and interfering with prevention efforts through this misinformation. According to the CDC, the suicide rate is, in fact, the lowest in December and the winter months around the world and the rate peaks in the spring and the fall. Several theories exist as to why this might be so. One is that during the holidays, more family tend to be around, which might increase a sense of connectedness or decrease opportunity for suicide. Another reason might be that people hold on for hope of positive changes in the new year, and when these changes don’t happen, their hopelessness increases. 

One final reason related to SAD is when the sun returns and the weather warms, some may find an “energized despair,” when before their energy was too low to act upon their suicidal thoughts.

In summary, Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and can be very disruptive to health, productivity and relationships. Like all other health conditions, early detection and treatment can significantly improve quality of life.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Finding Peace: Recovering After a Suicide Loss

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.
Samantha Hancock lives and works as a hairstylist in Colorado Springs, Co, and is a friend of our Senior Program Director, Jess Stohlmann-Rainey. This is her story:
Photo by Aleksandar Radovanovic
It was earlier this summer when I caught word that my Uncle Steve (my mom’s brother) had gone missing. He had been missing for nearly 24 hours without any of his medication for his diabetes. If that wasn’t scary enough, the family was beside themselves wondering, “where in the world could he be and why wouldn’t he tell us?” He recently moved with his wife and stepdaughter back to Idaho to be closer to their immediate family. They had lived by our family in Colorado for the last 20 something years, so it was fair for her to want to be closer to hers.
I fondly remember my uncle in my childhood memories. My cousin, who is more like a sister to me being that we’re close in age and both only children, and I would jump for joy anytime we were able to see Uncle Steve. Each time we saw him he would take us to Toy’s R Us and let us pick out any one toy we wanted. He would later tell me funny stories how of all the toys I could’ve picked I would choose a broom or a small vacuum. He thought it was a riot how domestic I was for a five-year-old. As I became a teenager, which also meant a know-it-all hellion, I grew apart from him along with some of the rest of the family for a time, as some teenagers do during that phase. Luckily I came back around as a functioning, more respectful adult in my later years.
I’ve seen him nearly every year since my youth at the holidays until this last one. He was always the one to make the turkey. We’d enjoy the holidays together and catch each other at family dinners here and there. We had since mended our relationship as I became a grown up, but in all honesty, we were never particularly close again. That doesn’t make my time shared with him less meaningful or less grieved when it comes to his suicide.
My mother, grandmother, aunt and I recently returned from a trip to Japan. It’s where my grandmother came from and we wanted to take her back to her homeland for perhaps her final time since she’ll be 84 next year.  As three generations together, we experienced a beautiful journey back to learn more about our ancestral beginnings. We were able to see Mount Fuji - Fuji being my uncle’s nickname. It was off in the distance and only briefly, but it was a cherished sight to see the mountain that represented the man we all missed so much.
Photo by Alejandro Gonzales
I travel quite frequently and of all the religious relics I’ve seen, the Buddhist temples in Japan are my most adored. I am not a highly religious person, but upon arriving to the temple, something felt different within. In respect to the moment, I bowed. I closed my eyes as tears swelled, I felt overwhelmed with emotion so I decided to pray. Among other prayers I had for myself and for the world, I prayed that my uncle found peace. That whatever pain he was in was gone now, and that he moved onto the next chapter of wherever we are taken next. I felt better afterwards. I felt at peace. We will be taking a trip to the Pacific Northwest early next year to spread his ashes - this is where he always wanted to end up, by the ocean near Oregon.
After receiving the news of his death I was only a few weeks away from a month long trip to Europe I had planned for all year. I didn’t know if I should feel guilty leaving the family behind after such devastating events took place, but they all encouraged me to go ahead. It was a wonderful opportunity for me, and he would’ve wanted me to go. He would give me grief about how hard my life must be - galavanting around the globe all of the time. After returning from my earlier travels he would share stories with me about when he used to travel in the Navy, it was something we could talk about and share, something we both understood - travel. He hadn’t traveled in some time, but I remember seeing him light up when he spoke of his youth in the navy and some of the places he was able to see. My trip after his death ended up being one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. I think it’s because I realized more than ever how precious our lives are, and how important is to seize any opportunity you want and to make it your own. I realized how our own happiness can be an inner battle, and at times it will be, but it’s a battle worth fighting every ounce of your being with, because once you achieve those happy moments the bad ones seem to fall away.
My uncle taking his life left a lot of uncertainty amongst the family, as suicide usually does. There are unanswered questions that will remain unresolved, and there is no peace in that. You have to find and create your own peace when you lose someone in this manner. It’s no easy task, but you get to take your time and deal with it the best you can. We all handle death differently, and you’re allowed to go through the stages of mourning that accompany the loss of someone you loved. It helps me cope knowing that he is no longer in pain. He unfortunately made the choice to end his suffering without seeking prior help, but I can’t be angry at someone who isn’t here anymore. I believe if he had reached out, my family would’ve done all we could to help him, but looking back I knew my uncle was in pain, physical and emotional pain. I know he was dependent on pain killers, and I know he was unhappy. We all ask what we could’ve done differently, I think of a million things. But asking those questions over and over never brings him back. I must go on, living wholeheartedly and with resilience, proud that I once knew the man he was - adventurous, funny, and kind.
Photo by Google Images
My Uncle Steve would be so proud of all my traveling I continue to do. I believe he was excited by how I made it such a priority in my life and actually accomplished it. I think he would be proud to see me truly living my life, never in vain. Always remembering him, but moving forward because that’s my only option. We are each given this life, what we do with it is up to us. You make the choice to live or not. I choose life for myself, and I hope I can help inspire and encourage anyone who is having a hard time making that choice.
The fault is never yours when someone else takes their own life. You must make peace with that before you can begin the healing and mending that is to ensue. It is no easy path, no one said it is. Death is such a definite part of life, the one and only thing that ceases us to exist. Finding peace in that is hard in itself, but I encourage you to take that and turn it into a reminder to do whatever you want in life from this day forward. Take your pain and turn it into something beautiful. Believe in life after the loss you are suffering from, because there is so much more awaiting you.

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. For more information, please visit

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I lost my dad to suicide on Valentine’s Day

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.

Jeff Leieritz recently became involved with the Carson J Spencer Foundation through his work with a construction trade association. His association, Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) recently joined the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. This move allowed him to come in contact with the Carson J Spencer Foundation. Jeff lost his father last year and has been trying to make meaning out of the loss ever since. This year, we want to focus on lived experience and share stories of finding meaning from loss and despair. This is his story:
I lost my dad to suicide on Valentine’s Day 2015. My dad was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met; he was a teacher and middle school coach in San Bernardino, California and invested a lot of extra effort and time in his students and student athletes. 
Jeff and his Dad
My dad was my coach growing up and was the best man in my wedding. I not only lost my dad, I lost one of my best friends. My wife had never seen me cry before my dad took his own life, but I do not think I can count the number of times she has seen it since. 
He and my mother made a lot of sacrifices to raise me in a way that has allowed me to be successful. It’s impossible to get through a day without seeing ways that my parents have touched my life. My work ethic and faith in Christ are deeply rooted in the way I was raised by both of my parents. 
My dad was a father figure to so many people over the years, but never met my son, who shares his middle name with my dad. I never thought I would be in the position of raising my son without my dad around but I hope that I am able to instill in him the sense of compassion for other people that my dad lived every day. 
Speaking at my dad’s memorial service was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I remember watching him speak at his dad’s funeral a couple of years before and do not know how he made it through speaking without breaking down. 
I didn’t make it past my first sentence without crying. 
My mourning process is ongoing, there’s not a day that goes by that I do not miss my dad. The biggest challenge that I believe I have overcome in my mourning process is asking myself the what if questions. 
What if I had recognized the signs? 
What if I had known what this meant? I live on the East Coast now, what if I had been around more? 
What if? What if? What if? 
There’s no solace in pondering those questions and no healing. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I do not know that I will ever understand why my dad took his own life but I am also not going to heal if I keep asking myself these unanswerable questions. 
Realizing that no good comes from these questions, whether I am asking them myself or feel like I need to answer them for others was a big moment in my mourning process. 
I have attempted to maintain my dad’s legacy as a coach and leader in the community by establishing a memorial scholarship for student athletes from the  Westside of San Bernardino who have excelled in the classroom and in athletics in his name. The first memorial scholarship was awarded a couple of months after he passed away. This past year we were able to raise enough money to award scholarships to two applicants. 
Additionally, my employer, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a national construction industry trade association representing nearly 21,000 members, has joined the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. As a part of the alliance ABC is taking an active role in raising awareness and distributing resources to companies about suicide prevention and mental health promotion. 
I am proud of our involvement in the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention and I find a purpose in trying to raise awareness and normalize conversations about mental health. I believe there is a crippling stigma that comes with discussing mental health issues and this stigma and hesitance only increases the feeling of isolation that people feel when they are battling suicidal thoughts. By normalizing conversations about mental health and suicide prevention, I believe that we can make people that are struggling feel less isolated. 
I lost my dad at the age of 28, he never met my son, was not around to see me buy my first house, he’s already missed so much; I need to feel like I am using my experience in losing him and his life in a way that will have a positive impact on the world. 
I think that my dad would be most proud of two things; his grandson and the scholarship we have created in his name. 
Jeff with his Dad at his wedding
The last conversation I had with my dad we talked about starting and I believe that my dad would be so proud to be a grandfather. 
My dad was really dedicated to the kids he coached and to the city of San Bernardino. Student athletes he coached dating back more than 20 years attended his service and I cannot think of a more meaningful or better way to honor his memory and commitment to the community. 
I would tell people that recently lost someone to suicide that there is no healing, only frustration in going over the “what if” questions. For me it was also important to be patient in finding a meaning or purpose from my loss. 
I look to take motivation from hardship; I needed a different approach to losing my dad. I do not like to feel sorry for myself but needed to let myself feel that way in losing my dad. It didn’t need to motivate me into action, it was awful and it was ok for it to just be awful.
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. For more information, please visit

Saturday, November 19, 2016

I Lost My Son, Dylan, In The Murder-Suicide at Columbine

Guest Blog by Sue Klebold

Sue with Dylan
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 discrimination and prejudice often associated with people living with of mental health conditions and suicidal thoughts, behavior and loss. People sharing stories of moving from despair to hope and recovery help inspire others to get involved in the movement.

Saturday, November 19, 2016, is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, and thus, we are highlighting a loss survivor’s story and her search for meaning after loss.

Sue Klebold lost her son, Dylan, on April 20, 1999. He was one of the two shooters in the Columbine Tragedy. Her grief and recovery has been a long process. She became connected to the Carson J Spencer Foundation as she started to learn more about suicide and suicide prevention. Today, she is part of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Loss & Healing Council, and a valued volunteer of the Carson J Spencer Foundation. This is her story:
I lost my son, Dylan, in a murder-suicide.  He and his friend murdered 12 students and a teacher, and injured more than 20 others before taking their own lives. He was very smart, funny and well-organized.  He had a great sense of humor and made me laugh.  
He loved trying new foods and new experiences.  I will always miss him. 
Dylan taught me what it feels like to be completely proud of a child, and to understand how blind we can be to someone’s inner suffering.  
I have honored his memory and the memory of those he killed by writing a book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, and donating the proceeds to brain health and suicide prevention organizations.  Because of Dylan, I try to make things better for others. 
My grieving process was complicated because of the murders involved.  Years of grief were convoluted by lawsuits, public condemnation, and personal health problems.  The loving support of friends and family helped, along with therapy, reading about suicide, journaling, drawing, exercise, and connecting with other survivors of suicide loss.
I derived meaning by learning about the suicidal mind.  I began to accept that his judgment was impaired at the time of his death, and this helped me cope with the reality of his destructive behavior.  
I hope he would be proud that I honor his memory by trying to improve mental health care for others.  I want him to know that nothing he did could ever make me love him less than I do. 
Recovery is a process.  At first, we are victimized by what has happened to us.  We feel devastated, confused, grief stricken, and helpless.  As time goes by, we slowly move from feeling like a victim to feeling more like a survivor.  We don’t know how we made it, but we want to help others who have more recent losses or who are struggling.  We find that by trying to serve others, we slowly gain strength and balance.  Eventually, we may become advocates, driven to make a difference in a larger sphere of influence.  We see that we never have to stop loving or missing the person we lost, and we remember them with joy, honor, and gratitude.    

The effects of a suicide loss are long lasting and far reaching.  Many survivors seek 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.  Carson J Spencer Foundation seeks to elevate the conversation and 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, helps to create the meaning that so many seek.
On December 6th, Colorado will celebrate a statewide day of giving – Colorado Gives Day.  On December 6th, 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 here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How to Support Someone Who is Grieving

Photo by Alexsandar Radanovic
By Emily Alvarez

When someone close to you experiences extreme loss, you want to help. Words often fail at this time and we’re left faltering for the right thing to do or say. When flustered, it can be frustrating to find the “perfect” way to support or respond. One can be so scared of doing the wrong thing, they end up doing nothing. While doing nothing is an option, it’s not a very good one.

While there’s no one perfect way to respond or support someone, here are six tips on how to support someone who is grieving.

1. Their loss is not about you.

Grief belongs to the griever. If you’re taking a supporting role to someone who is grieving, it’s important to remember that their grief is not about you. Most suggestions, advice, and “help” that are given don’t actually help the griever. It tells them that they should be feeling differently than they do. Grief is different for everyone, so you can’t expect one person’s experience to match another.

2. Stick with the present and the truth.

While it might be easy, try to avoid making statements about the past or future. Try to stay away from generalized statements about their situation. There is no way you could know if someone is in a “better place” or “finished their work here.” These platitudes don’t make anyone but the giver feel better. Reminding the griever that their past life was good isn’t a great trade for their current pain. These are the statements that work: “this sucks”, “I love you”, “I’m here.”

Photo by Fellowship of the Rich
3. You can't fix this.

Your friend’s loss can’t be fixed, solved, or repaired. This pain can’t be made better. Skip saying anything that tries to fix this unfixable thing and you’ll be fine. Your first instinct is to try to fix things, but unfortunately, you just can’t. Be supportive without trying to fix.

4. Anticipate, don't ask.

If you say, “call me if you need anything,” your friend won’t call. Not because they don’t need help, but because figuring out what their needs might be is beyond their ability. Make tangible promises like, “I will be there on Monday at 5:00 pm to make you dinner” or “I’ll walk your dog every morning on my way to work.” Don’t wait for them to ask for help, anticipate that they will need your help. On the flipside, don’t do anything irreversible. Don’t surprise your friend by doing the laundry or cleaning the house without asking. You might be cleaning the last piece they have of their loved one. Do simple tasks that, while necessary, can make a difference.

5. Become a buffer.

Photo by Tim Marshall
When someone is grieving, having people constantly coming up to them or wanting to give support can be overwhelming. What should be a personal and private time can feel too open. Becoming a buffer between others and your friend can take a load off their plate. Be the go-between and relay information to the outside world or organize the well-wishers. Buffers are really helpful.

6. Love.

Above everything else, love. Be there. Be a friend. Show up. Say and do something. Be willing to stand beside the giant gaping hole that opened in your friend’s life without out turning away. Listen. Be willing to not have all the answers. Be willing to get the answers they need. Be present. Show your love.