Our best bet in preventing suicide is to get in front of it.
Way in front.
Promoting protective factors will not only reduce the risk of suicide — it also is a great way to build a life worth living. In this podcast, I interview Captain Dena Ali about what we have learned about wellness at work from the fire service and about the mitigating effects of social support, mindfulness and sleep. We also talk about the power of peer support to promote these buffering factors and how small interventions can go a long way. As you listen to Captain Ali, ask yourself, “How can these protective factors of the fire service be translated to other industries and workplaces?
A strong support network is the most powerful buffer against PTSD, stress, and suicide. True social connection is based on trust, empathy and vulnerability. We can see at the brain science level how simply talking to others allows us to “know and understand what is going on with us while also processing the memories of the trauma.” According to Dr. Van der Kolk, the body keeps score, "As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself. Hiding your core feelings takes an enormous amount of energy; it saps your motivation to pursue worthwhile goals, and it leaves you feeling bored and shut down. Meanwhile, stress hormones keep flooding your body, leading to headaches, muscle aches, and irrational behaviors that may embarrass you and hurt the people around you.”
We are hardwired to connect. According to Ali, “Social support is not just being in the presence of other; it requires meaningful connection and a visceral feeling of safety. You have to feel safe to share your thoughts and know that you are understood.”
The fire service has important protectors when it comes to social support like a feeling of camaraderie, familial support, and a communal sense of purpose. Workers pull together around the kitchen table to process the day and check in with one another in meaningful ways.
How can we help workers build out their “A-Team”?
Ali states, “Mindfulness is the super power that allows humans the opportunity to own the space between a stimulus and the response.” Mindfulness works because it increases activation of the neocortex while decreasing activation of the emotional centers of the brain, which can help mitigate the impact of trauma. Several smartphone applications like Headspace and Calm or the Navy Seal’s Breathing Technique called “box breathing” work to promote resilience.
According to Ali, mindfulness for emotional survival is based on where you put your attention. Victims focus on what they can’t control. Survivors focus on what they can control.
How can skills of mindfulness be used in workplaces to mitigate experiences of overwhelm and other forms of workplace trauma?
Sleep disruption is a key contributor to our emotional well-being. The sleeping brain prunes information to let emotionally relevant information stay present while letting irrelevant information fade away. It also helps traumatic events turn into memories experienced from an emotional distance rather than stuck in the reliving part of the brain. Sleep disruption can lead to emotional reactivity — anger, impulsivity and aggression.
When it comes to shift work, employers need to get creative to help workers prioritize quality sleep. Teaching workers about “sleep hygiene” can be a place to start.
What can be done to help workers sleep better?
About Captain Dena Ali
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Dena Ali is a captain with the Raleigh (NC) Fire Department. Ali has a degree from North Carolina State University and an MPA from the University of North Carolina—Pembroke, where her research focused on firefighter suicide. As a graduate student, she was awarded the 2018 MPA student of the year. She has also received several awards throughout her career. One that she is most proud of is the NC Office of State Fire Marshal Honor, Courage, and Valor award that she earned in 2018 for her steadfast effort to bring awareness to firefighter mental health through her vulnerability.
Dena has also served as a subject matter expert at the National Fire Academy where she assisted in curriculum review for their health and wellness curriculum. Dena is an advocate of awareness, education, and understanding of mental health disorders and suicide. She speaks locally and nationally on these topics and is a QPR Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Instructor. She has written several articles on topics such as suicide prevention, peer support, wellness, and post-traumatic stress. Dena is the founder and director of North Carolina Peer Support where she helped to develop their statewide curriculum
“We are not just human resources, we are human beings.”
A significant workplace traumatic event can make or break a company depending on how well the employer has prepared for it — at the heart of a successful transition through the crisis is the how well leadership connects with the people most impacted by the trauma. In this interview, Tricia Kagerer, an expert in workplace risk management, shares key steps in helping companies move from “it-will-never-happen-here” mentality to building a responsive plan for crisis.
Crisis can be defined as a time of intense danger or difficulty resulting in substantial emotional disregulation and or radical change of status. At the center of many crises a difficult or important decision is often necessary — this moment becomes a turning point for better or worse in this “seismic event.”
Some crises happen at work like trauma/violence, bullying, or downsizing. Sometimes when people’s identity is what they do, even retirement can feel like a crisis to some. Sometimes crises come to work like when an employee experiences a sudden death, a break with a serious mental health condition, a highly conflictual divorce or a significant illness or injury.
When facing these crises, the response by leadership often makes a critical impact on whether those most affected stay stuck in the crises or move towards post-traumatic growth. Many people exposed to a traumatic event, experience personal growth in the form of:
Appreciation of life
Relationships with others
New possibilities in life
…even while they are also experiencing the very challenging experiences of trauma. What often makes the difference for those who move toward growth and those who do not is interpersonal communication and connectedness after the trauma. About Tricia Kagerer
Tricia is currently the EVP for Risk Management for Jordan Foster Construction in Texas, a large construction organization that performs civil, multifamily and general contracting across Texas. Tricia leads the risk management, safety and leadership efforts.
Previously she served as a Risk Management Executive for American Contractors Insurance Group where she provided risk management and safety consulting services for contractors across the United States. She is an expert on contractual risk transfer, risk financing, wrap‐ups, subcontractor default insurance, claims management, conflict resolution, and safety.
Tricia is a construction industry expert and speaker on various leadership, risk management and safety topics, including crisis management, emergency response best practices, education across cultures, and servant leadership and diversity.
She holds a master’s degree in dispute resolution from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and her bachelor of science in business administration and bachelor of arts in communication—public relations from Regis University in Denver, Colorado.
Her professional credentials include Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU); Certified Safety Professional (CSP); Construction Risk Insurance Specialist (CRIS); Associate in Risk Management (ARM); Associate in Claims Management (AIC); licensed Texas claims representative and commercial agent; and served as a construction panel arbitrator with the AAA.
Tricia is the author of the upcoming book “The B Words; 12 Words Every Woman Must Navigate on the Journey to Self Defined Success” where she highlights challenges and breakthrough strategies for women entering non‐traditional roles in the workplace. For more information go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/50
Saknas det avsnitt?
How do we help people in despair overcome emotional pain and reconnect to purpose through an on-line intervention? Connection is the answer. Technology is the tool.
Our on-line technologies can have a whole spectrum of impact on our behavior — from helpful and healthy to harmful and hurtful, and the data we derive from our engagement with technology tells a powerful tale. When “13 Reasons Why” came out on March 31, 2017, I didn’t know anything about it. Five days later it had swept the globe, and the suicide prevention community became very concerned. By July 2017, a JAMA report looked at Google search trends during the 19 days after the show launched. Many terms related to suicide were significantly higher than expected and included increases in help-seeking (e.g., “suicide hotline number” was up 21%) and suicidal thoughts (e.g., “how to commit suicide” was up 26%). It wasn’t until April of 2019, however, did researchers conclude, “The release of 13 Reasons Why was associated with a significant increase in monthly suicide rates among US youth aged 10 to 17 years. Caution regarding the exposure of children and adolescents to the series is warranted.”
Google has partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, so searches for phrases like “I want to kill myself” bring up graphic and phone number for this hotline. Facebook has a “report” and “support” functions for friends who are concerned about another’s suicidal on-line posting. Now, through the power of artificial intelligence, they are building algorithms that help them predict who is at risk for suicide. For more on social media and suicide prevention read: http://insurancethoughtleadership.com/social-media-and-suicide-prevention/.
My interview this week is with Anne Moss Rogers. After losing her son Charles to suicide, digital marketing expert, Anne Moss decided to use social media and SEO skills to reach those Googling “ways to die” with the goal of saving lives. The results have been remarkable and unexpected.
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About Anne Moss Rogers
Anne Moss Rogers is also known as the “emotionally naked speaker” is a blogger, TEDx Talk storyteller and a brain tumor survivor. She is the author of “Diary of a Broken Mind", a mother's story, a son's suicide, and the haunting lyrics he left behind. In other words, she is an inspiration of resilience.
As a motivational speaker she helps people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse, and find life after loss. Despite her family’s best efforts, Anne Moss’ 20-year-old son Charles died by suicide June 5, 2015 after many years of struggle with anxiety, depression, and ultimately addiction. Anne Moss started a blog, EmotionallyNaked.com, and chronicled her family’s tragedy in a newspaper article that went viral.
She has been featured in the New York Times, and was the first suicide loss survivor ever invited to speak at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). She is also a trainer for the 4-hour evidence based training called safeTALK.
Do mental health providers’ own personal histories with suicide impact their interactions with and attitudes towards people experiencing suicide intensity? What happens when clinicians disclose their own suicide attempts to the public or to their clients? Does an “insider’s view” help a therapist to be more of an ally than an adversary? In this interview Dr. Stacey Freedenthal and I explore these questions as we have an in-depth conversation about her deep insights in helping the suicide person.
About Dr. Stacey Freedenthal
Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is a tenured faculty member at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work where she teaches Suicide Assessment and Interventions, Assessment of Mental Health in Adults, Clinical Social Work Theory and Practice, and Social Justice Challenges in Mental Health Practice. She writes poignantly and powerfully about suicide. Her book, Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals, contains evidence-based instructions and advice for assessing risk, planning for safety and helping the suicidal person to build hope, coping skills and reasons for living. She has written more than 70 articles for her website SpeakingOfSuicide.com, a blog that has received over five million visitors since 2013.
Freedenthal started her journey working in the field of suicide prevention in 1994, when she volunteered at a suicide hotline. Subsequently, she earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Texas at Austin. She held clinical positions in psychiatric emergency settings before returning to school to earn a PhD in social work from Washington University in St. Louis. Before Freedenthal became a social worker, she worked as a journalist for The Dallas Morning News. for more information go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/48
When a teen loses a loved one to suicide, the intense reactions can be overwhelming, and sometimes the caring adults don’t know what to do to help. Teens who are already feeling the pressure of school and social expectations can be very challenged in navigating the complexity of suicide bereavement. In this interview, Jason shares his journey from surviving to thriving after losing his Dad to suicide when he was 17.
About Jason Holzer
Jason grew up in Missouri in a loving family. At age 17, however, his life was changed forever on May 8, 2003, when his Dad died by suicide. Later Jason found a calling for resilience through his faith and vocation as a teacher and basketball coach to #Act2Impact. He strives to make meaning out of his loss to positively impact others and them them overcome the lasting impact of a suicide death. Today his is a speaker and the author of the book, “Shattered by Suicide: Renewed by Resilience.”
For more information go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/47
Music provided by https://www.royaltyfree-music.com
Editor of “Still with Us: Voices of Sibling Suicide Loss,” Dr. Lena Heilmann joins me for our shared reflection on the experience of losing a brother or sister to suicide. We speak about how in this form of loss, siblings experience losing their past, present and future. Lena also suggests many strategies for coping with the grief and trauma of suicide loss.
On November 22, 2012, Lena lost her sister Danielle to suicide. Seven years later, she is turning that tremendous grief into energy to help other siblings who have experienced suicide loss. Her book is an anthology of sibling loss stories, organized by time since loss. She says “there is no gatekeeping on what it means to be a sibling,” meaning meaning a sibling is defined as anyone (a cousin, a friend, a relative, a family member through marriage, a soul connection, etc.) who fills a sibling role in our lives.
Reading reminded me of my journey of losing Carson from:
Feeling like I lost a part of myself
Later grieving the lost dreams I had imagined of us raising families together in Colorado
Still later I experienced survival guilt because I have learned so much about suicide since his death
Now I miss his presence greatly with the transitions I face in my life.
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I was so honored when Lena asked me to be one of the storytellers in her book. Together with many other sibling survivors, we are holding honor guard, as my friend Sarah Gaer calls it, for our loved ones by honoring their lives and sharing our stories. Many of us carry forward our loved one’s legacy and help others, so that we can make meaning out of our unimaginable loss.
In this podcast, Lena and I discuss many topics including the connection between suicide and trauma and the importance of storytelling in cutting through the loneliness of suicide grief.
About Dr. Lena Heilmann
Lena Heilmann lost her sister Danielle to suicide in 2012. In response to this traumatic loss and as a way to honor her sister, Lena transitioned to the world of suicide prevention. In her work and volunteer roles, Lena centers her lived experience and identity as a sibling suicide loss survivor. Her recent project is a collection of essays titled Still With Us: Voices of Sibling Suicide Loss Survivors (forthcoming), which includes 23 essays written by sibling suicide loss survivors. These essays share a common message: No matter how much time passes, our siblings are still with us.
Lena left the world of academia where she taught as a college professor in the areas of German studies, English, and gender, so she could work in suicide prevention full time. I have come to know and admire her work, strength and thoughtfulness through our shared tenure on the board of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado. We are also proud graduates of Regis University’s Masters in Nonprofit Management program.
Contact email related to book: LenaSurvivingSiblingSuicide@gmail.com
for mor information n this episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/46
Music provided by https://www.royaltyfree-music.com
Over 855 delegates from 57 countries convened in Derry/Londonderry to share the science, stories and strategy of suicide prevention and suicide grief/trauma support. The theme of the conference was "Breaking Down Walls, Building Bridges" and the conference planners were exceptionally mindful about equity in their selection of speakers and content. The voices of people with lived experience were prevalent throughout and one of my favorite sessions was among prominent suicidologists and clinicians who shared their experiences with discrimination and prejudice within the field of suicide prevention. We also had an opportunity to honor the lives and service of two giants in our field who died way too soon -- Prof Allison Milner and Dr. Jan Mokkenstorm. Tune in to be inspired to be part of this international community pulling together to prevent suicide and alleviate suffering. For more information go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast
In the United States our suicide rates are going up, but in much of the world, the suicide rates are going down. In this interview I speak with the world renowned Erminia Colucci to discuss the Anglo perspective of a highly medicalized perspective of suicide and contrast that with an understanding of suicide in a larger context. In her view, we must situate suicide prevention within a social, cultural and political context to be effective. She is part of a group of “Critical Suicidologists” who are challenging some of the “truths” we have accepted within the suicide prevention field. As an activist researcher she wants to engage with the community and helps us better to understand the root causes of inequality, oppression, violence and related conditions of human suffering.
Erminia and I have this conversation at the World Congress for Suicide Prevention in Derry, Ireland. We are sitting in an art studio in the Playhouse for this conversation, and explore a ‘different way’ to help people on their darkest day.
Suicide needs to be seen in a larger context within the cultures people belong to
We need to break the silence in some areas of understanding suicide like social justice
By exploring alternative methods that work for people, like the arts, faith, and others, we can make a difference to alleviate suffering and prevent suicide.
About Dr. Erminia Colucci
Erminia Colucci is currently a senior lecturer at the Department of Psychology at Middlesex University London (UK), however she has lectured and conducted research all over the4 world including Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and in her home country of Italy. In 2015 she was awarded the International Association for Suicide Prevention’s award for innovative research among young researchers. The focus of her research is on on the cultural implications of suicide on mental health and suicide with a focus on low-middle income countries and immigrant and refugee populations. Her key interests are human rights and mental health, suicide and suicide prevention, domestic violence against women and children, child neglect/exploitation, spirituality and faith-based and spiritual/traditional healing, and first-hand stories of people with lived-experience of ‘mental illness’ and suicidal behavior. Erminia is passionate about using arts-based and visual methods, particularly photography and ethnographic film-documentary, in her research, teaching and advocacy activities. Erminia is the chair of the International Association for Suicide Prevention SIG in Culture and Suicidal Behaviour, Chair of the World Association of Cultural Psychiatry SIG on Arts, Media and Mental Health and founder of Movie-ment (https://movie-ment.org) and Aperture, the first Asia-Pacific ethnographic documentary festival. For more information on this episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/44
The World Health Organization has declared suicide prevention a global imperative. Every year World Suicide Prevention falls on September 10th. This year I interviewed Professor Rory O’Connor as he prepared for the 30th World Congress of Suicide Prevention in Derry, Northern Ireland.
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About Professor Rory O’Connor
Rory O’Connor was “born to be a psychologist,” knowing at an early age he was fascinated with human behavior and emotions. Currently he is a Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Glascow and the Director of Suicidal Behavior Research Laboratory. The personal impact he has experienced in losing people he cared about to suicide helps to fuel his passion for learning more about the experience of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. His Integrated Motivational-Volitional Model of Suicidal Behavior is well respected internationally.
Professor O’Connor is a global leader as the Past President of the International Academy for Suicide Research and the current Vice President for the International Association for Suicide Prevention. For more information on this episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/43
As we approach National Suicide Prevention Week, it sometimes feels like a multitude of voices are clamoring for attention with various (and sometimes conflicting) messages. How can we cut through the clutter and be heard? One place where we can learn lessons is from is big business. A recent article by Peter Gasca in Inc. magazine called “Get Your Message Heard With This Simple 5- Step Checklist” offers helpful tips to the suicide prevention community.
The 5-Step Checklist for Effective Messaging
Add Value — does your message improve the lives of those who receive it? Is it helpful? Is there a clear call to action?
Be Clear — does your message get to the point and have a direct call to action? Are you using jargon or acronyms?
Be Concise — does your message use as few words as possible? Better yet — have you considered an infographic to convey your message?
Be Compelling — does your message use urgency, storytelling, humor or something unexpected to get the receiver’s attention? How are you engaging others?
Be Credible — are you trustworthy? Use citations and get your information from highly credible sources.
Recently, with major news coverage of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” and celebrity suicide deaths, we are having more conversations about suicide, but are we having the right conversations? Are we telling a more powerful tale? In this episode Dr. Bart Andrews shares his story of deciding to “come out” as a suicide attempt survivor, how he challenges “safe messaging guidelines,” and what he believes are most important suicide prevention messages need to be.
About Dr. Bart Andrews
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Bart Andrews, PhD, is Vice President of Telehealth & Home/Community Services at Behavioral Health Response. Dr. Andrews is the Chair of Missouri’s Suicide Prevention Network, Co-Chair of the Suicide Lifeline’s Standards, Training and Practices committee, a member of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s (SPRC) Steering Committee, an SPRC ZeroSuicide Academy Faculty member and member of the American Association of Suicidology’s Executive Board of Directors. Dr. Andrews is a suicide attempt survivor and a proponent of embracing of lived expertise in our suicide prevention efforts. For more information about this episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/42
If you are thinking about getting involved in suicide prevention or suicide grief support, we need you. You have a place and your voice matters. Learn more in this interview about how to get involved in my interview with Colleen Creighton, Executive Director of the American Association of Suicidology.
Social movements tend to follow predictable phases in their development. In a paper I co-authored with Dr. Danielle Jahn called “Tracking a Movement: U.S. Milestones in Suicide Prevention” we discussed four stages of development that seem track the emergence and decline of a wildfire:
Stage 1: A Spark is Lit — at this stage individuals are triggered by a shared belief that something isn’t right. People start to come together in small groups over water-coolers and in coffee shops and become agitated together.
Stage 2: Combustion and Local Coalescence — at this stage many small local pockets begin to enrolls new voices and create local strategy, and momentum builds.
Stage 3: Fully Developed and Consuming Energy — here we have bureaucratization with broader levels of standards and coordination and enrollment of universal systems like media, education, healthcare, faith communities, politics and workplace.
Stage 4: Decay and Decline — momentum dies out.
In this interview we talk about how the movement is gaining traction through new directions in research to practice, media responsiveness, community engagement and legislation.
Join the Movement
Join now: https://www.suicidology.community/general/register_member_type.asp?
Join now: https://www.suicidology.community/general/register_member_type.asp?
Do you want to get involved? One step you can take is join the American Association of Suicidology — membership is accessible for all.
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About Colleen Creighton
Colleen Creighton joined the American Association of Suicidology in June 2017. Previously, she served as Executive Director of the Alliance for Consumer Education (ACE), a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the safe and responsible use of consumer household products. She also served as Director of CHPA Educational Foundation where she was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day management of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association’s educational foundation.
Prior to her work in the nonprofit foundation arena, Ms. Creighton worked in the educational field, having taught civics education at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels. Additionally, she spent three years in Lancut, Poland working for the International World Teach program, an organization based out of the Harvard University Center for International Development. Before that, she studied NATO and the European Union at the Irish Institute for European Affairs in Leuven, Belgium.
Colleen holds a B.A. in Political Science from the Catholic University of America and a M.A. in East European Studies from the Freie Universität Berlin in Germany. For more information on this episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/41
Faith community leaders are often first responders after a suicide death. Sometimes, as in my family’s situation, faith leaders do an amazing job in supporting a highly traumatized and confused family through their grief journey and facilitate a memorial service that both honors the life that was lived without shying away from the tragedy of suicide. Other times families feel compounded shame and guilt and experience additional layers of loss because of how faith leaders address suicide. Faith beliefs are sometimes shattered in the aftermath of suicide, and anger at God is not uncommon.
From a suicide prevention standpoint, faith communities can foster compassion and support for people who are experiencing hardship, and can use theological reflection to help people make meaning. They can also work closely with mental health resources in the community to build bridges and increase their mental health and suicide prevention literacy. When faced with intervening with someone they are worried about, faith leaders can be trained to expand their pastoral counseling skills to identify someone in an emerging suicide crisis and to help them build out their safety net. Should a suicide impact a faith community, faith leaders are often called upon to conduct memorial services and ofter pastoral care, and thus, would benefit greatly from understanding suicide grief and trauma and best practices in safe and effective messaging.
According to Dr. Melinda Moore, 85% of clergy know that helping people in a suicide crisis is part of their responsibility, but they don’t know what to do. In this interview with her, we explore some of the findings from a recently released guidelines from the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention called “Suicide Prevention Competencies for Faith Leaders: Supporting Life Before, During, and After a Suicidal Crisis.” We also discuss ways that faith communities can offer support through the National Weekend of Prayer and the resources offered through the “Faith-Hope-Life” campaign.
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About Dr. Melinda Moore
Dr. Melinda Moore is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. She is in private practice in Lexington, Kentucky, and routinely trains clinicians in suicide-focused treatment. Dr. Moore serves on the board of the American Association of Suicidology as the chair of the Clinical Division and is the co-lead of the National Action Alliance’s Faith Communities Task Force. She recently published The Suicide Funeral: Honoring their Memory, Comforting their Survivors (Wipf & Stock) with her co-author Rabbi Dan Robert. She conducts suicide bereavement research at Eastern Kentucky University with an emphasis on Posttraumatic Growth (www.posttraumaticgrowth.com). She received her PhD from The Catholic University of America. For more information on this and every episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/40
All over the globe, young Indigenous men have some of the highest rates of suicide. When we take a closer look at this trend, we understand it is much less about individual mental health issues and much more about the consequences of historical trauma. Programs addressing suicide prevention in these communities are promoting culture and community connectedness through storytelling, ceremony and reclaiming culture. These cross-generational initiatives are rooted in values that link the past and present. Values and priorities like honor, identity, pride and resiliency. In this interview I interview my dear friend and one of the most resilient people I know, Shelby Rowe, who shares how she was inspired by her ancestors to be a “designated culture keeper.” For more information on this and every episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/39
In the US, the construction industry is the top industry with the highest suicide rates and largest numbers. Historically, mental health and suicide have not been considered safety priorities, until now. In this podcast a global safety expert helps us connect the dots.
Safety professionals are well-versed in “the fatal four” — falls, followed by struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between — and know that if they are able to prevent these forms of deaths, they will save almost 600 lives each year (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.). What most safety professionals are not aware of is that suicide in construction kills takes many more lives. A recent study published by the CDC (Peterson, et al, 2018) found that in their sample 20% of all men who died by suicide in the US were in the construction/extraction industry. In 2017, 47,173 people died by suicide, 27,404 of them were men ages 20-64 (CDC, 2017). If 20% of them were in construction/extraction that means we can estimate that over 5,000 men working in construction/extraction died by suicide — over 9x more than all of the fatal four deaths together.
When a workplace fatality happens, the cause is almost always determined to be “accidental” and a deeper investigation into intent to die is not undertaken. The remedy is then to do more safety training. When we look at the fatal occupational injuries, however, the first two most common (transportation incidents and falls) are also common ways people think about taking their lives (CDistrosby et al, 1999; De Andrade & DeLeo, 2007). Thus, it is possible that some if not many of these workplace fatalities are actually suicide deaths, which then means that safety training may not be effective in preventing them.
The reason suicide has not concerned safety professionals before is that most suicide deaths do not occur at the workplace, and thus, were not considered a work-related fatalities. Today, we know different, and there are many things workplaces can do to make suicide prevention and mental health promotion health and safety priorities.
There are many reasons why mismanaged mental health conditions and unchecked suicidal thoughts can lead to safety concerns:
Distraction: having suicidal thoughts and symptoms of illnesses like depression, anxiety and addition are intense and trying to hide them from other people can make them all-consuming. For example, racing or intrusive thoughts as experienced by people living with bipolar condition, trauma or thought disorders like schizophrenia can be very distracting. This distraction can interfere with decisiveness and safety planning.
Impulsivity, Impaired Perception and Judgment: agitation, tunnel vision, distorted thinking and paranoia are common symptoms among several mental health conditions. When left untreated these symptoms can interfere with workplace security and morale.
Fatigue and Microsleep: sleep disorders are common in many forms of mental illness and suicidal intensity. Insomnia is present in many forms of mood disorders, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. People living with depression often experience lethargy and what is known as anhedonia – of the inability to feel pleasure. Sometimes extreme fatigue can result in microsleep (Kock, 2016) where the brain involuntarily goes “off-line” to a sudden sleep state for a matter of seconds. This state can have disastrous consequences for many safety-conscious professions.
Other Medical Complications: When mental health challenges reach crisis levels, other physical health challenges involving pain, gastro-intestinal problems and heart functioning can result.
Risk-taking and Disregard for Safety Precautions: When people are overwhelmed by the emotional pain in their life and have come to a place where the only way they can get out of this pain is to die, they often consciously or subconsciously start to take more risks or even practice suicidal behavior as they test out their capacity for self-harm.
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About TJ Lyons
TJ Lyons is a safety professional and regional manager for a large mechanical contracting firm in the Northeast. He has had the opportunity to serve as Safety Director for some of our largest general contractors and has extensive experience working overseas. Currently he is overseeing work across the US supporting some of the greatest safety professionals in the world. One particular focus is on the sons and daughters who do our hard work every day. Whenever he gets the opportunity he takes the time to listen to those in the field. Often that results not only in a safer workplace but a happy and more trusting group of what he calls, friends. He lives with his wife Tracy in 200 year old stagecoach stop house near Saratoga, NY. For more information on this and every episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/35
“Be vocal, be visible, be visionary. There is no shame in stepping forward, but there is great risk in holding back and just hoping for the best.” ~Higher Education Center
When it comes to suicide prevention in the workplace, we need bold leaders — leaders who are willing to take a stand and say, “suicide prevention matters to me, and it matters to our workforce.” We need leaders with a vision to aspire to a zero suicide mindset and to yield their influence to creating a culture of caring and mental wellbeing. When workers are having a hard time, we need leaders to notice and tell them, “If you reach out to me when you are suffering, I’ve got your back. I will persist with you until we’ve found the right support and resources to help you be your best self again. You matter to us and we need you to achieve our mission.”
In this episode we will hear from one leader who is doing just that within the construction industry — within labor specifically — building upon the culture of “we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”
About Chris Carlough
Chris Carlough is the Director of Education for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and is a tireless advocate for union members and their families struggling with substance use disorder, suicide prevention and other mental health issues.
Through the SMART MAP training initiative, SMART is building a network of trained compassionate union members who offer support and guidance to union members and their families struggling with a variety of chemical dependency issues. For more information on this and every episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/2019/4/34
Did you know?
Approximately 30% of ALL ER visits end with a prescription for a opioid. (Teater, 2015)
Approximately 60% of patients going to the ER with back pain will get an opioid prescription. (Teater, 2015)
Primary care doctors give opioids to about 35% of their patients presenting with back pain.
Pain is the most common reason for people to go to the ER or to their primary care doctor. (Teater, 2015)
One opioid prescription after an injury doubles the risk of being disabled at one year. (Teater, 2015)
The combined deaths among Americans — suicide and unintentional overdose — in 2000 was 41,364 deaths and in 2017 was 110,749 deaths. (Bohnert & Ilgen, 2019)
The good news is there are shared prevention approaches, and we are learning more and more as the silos between those addressing the opioid crisis and those addressing suicide begin to fall away. In this podcast Dr. Don Teater and I explore how opioid use and suicide are connected and what we need to do to find better ways to alleviate pain and suffering.
Teater, D. (2015). Prescription Opioids: The Real Story.
About Dr. Don Teater
National Safety Council Don is a family practitioner from Western North Carolina. His practice now concentrates on the treatment of pain and the treatment of opioid use disorder. Don was the lead facilitator for the expert panel discussion during the development of the CDC guidelines for treating pain. He continues to contract with the CDC on educating prescribers on the treatment of acute and chronic pain. For more information on this and every episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/33
For the past century, the science of suicide prevention has not revealed much that is highly promising; however, innovations coming from the research lab of Dr. Matt Nock are quite exciting. Join us as we talk about his work with electronic diaries, attentional bias, ketamine, and much more. Findings that are helping us be able to better predict suicide risk and find more effective ways to prevent this tragedy.
About Dr. Matt Nock
Matt Nock headshot.jpeg
Dr. Matt Nock received his Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University (2003) and completed his clinical internship at Bellevue Hospital and the New York University Child Study Center (2003). Nock’s research is aimed at advancing the understanding of why people behave in ways that are harmful to themselves, with an emphasis on suicide and other forms of self-harm. He has been published in over 250 scientific papers and book chapters. Nock’s work has been recognized through the receipt of four early career awards from the American Psychological Association, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the American Association of Suicidology.
In 2011, he was named a MacArthur Fellow. In addition to conducting research, Nock has been a consultant/scientific advisor to the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association DSM-5 Childhood and Adolescent Disorder Work Group. In 2017, he was named the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard. For more information on this and every episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/32
Well before we had writing and certainly before we had powerpoint, people were sharing stories. When it comes to suicide, we must “tell a more powerful tale” — one of resilience and redemption. When we cultivate stories that describe experiences of coming through unimaginable suicidal despair or suicide grief, storytellers “make meaning” and broader societal changes are possible. In other words, storytelling is good for the storyteller, and when done safely and effectively, it is good for the listener and can powerfully shift culture. In this interview Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona and I talk about the neurobiology and cultural implications of the power of the story to heal.
About Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona
Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona is the author of the “Coyote Trilogy,” (1998, 2003 & 2005), “Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process” (2007), “Healing the Mind through the Power of Story: The Promise of Narrative Psychiatry” (2010) and “Remapping Your Mind: The Neuroscience of Self-Transformation through Story” (2015). A Stanford educated MD, Mehl-Madrona is familiar with brain science and pharmacology, and while he does not eschew Western medicine when it is helpful, he seeks to find additional answers and alternatives to well-being. Inspired by his Cherokee grandmother’s storytelling and tapping into Lakota, Cherokee and Cree traditions of healing, he has spent his career understanding how storytelling converges with neurobiology.
Mehl-Medrona and others involved in Narrative Psychology have noticed the power of stories to transform our lives and shift our inner voices from victim and chaos to redemption and honor. The spiritual journey and healing use of storytelling has been at the cultural center of many indigenous peoples including the Maori, Africans, Mongolians, Aborigines, and Inuit for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and there is much we can learn from the oldest living cultures on earth. For generations within many tribal communities storytelling is valued for it healing capacity, especially when connected with ritual. Paula Gunn Allen, a Laguna/Sioux writer describes “medicine stories” as ceremonial narratives that alter states of consciousness — creating connection between body and spirit. In other words, language in the form of narrative is medicine (ardenhegele, 2017). For Mehl-Madrona, what we can learn from these native traditions is the mindset of narrative medicine, and that these values and practices are portable across cultures.
Frustrated with how conventional medicine ignored the experiences of the patient, Mehl-Madrona believes that by crafting our personal, family, and cultural narratives, we can reshape the dysfunctional patterns of our lives and the larger worlds in which we interact. While modern medicine has made tremendous advances, both the speed of interaction and the high-tech approach has created more distance between the healer and the helped. The practice of storytelling as a healing practice can help bridge this gap.
In his book, “Healing the Mind through the Power of Story,” Mehl-Madrona explains that many people who are suffering emotionally are not defective or ill, requiring drugs to “fix them”; instead what needs “fixing” are the sabotaging internalized stories that have seriously challenged their self- and world-view. The healing then comes from “telling a more powerful tale” about their lives. We construct story to reduce the chaos of our experience. For more information on this and every episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/31
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Suicide & The Workplace -- Globalization, Job Strain, and the Dark Side of the New Economy: Interview with Dr. Allison Milner | Episode 30
NOTE: This podcast will air on 2/26/19 at 10:00AM ET https://soundcloud.com/user-225414284-842732102
Too often when we talk about mental health promotion and suicide prevention in the workplace, the main message is about how to get workers who are suffering to counselors. Not enough attention is paid to the environmental aspects of the workplace that may be contributing to despair and what peers, managers and leadership can do to solve these problems. The research is clear — job strain is connected to suicide risk (Milner, et al, 2017). In particular certain types of job strain are related to suicide attempts and death:
Low control (limited decision-making)
High demand (pressure, workload)
Effort-reward imbalance (e.g., high pressure/expectations with little reward — income, respect or security)
Bullying/harassment (Leach et al)
On this podcast I interview an international authority on workplace suicide and mental health research, Dr. Allison Milner. Join us as we explore some of the social determinants of suicide through a social justice lens in the world of work.
“Suicide prevention doesn’t just magically happen on the psychiatrist’s couch…It happens peer-to-peer. We need the day-to-day interactions to support mental health services and help resolve issues when they are smaller.”
About Dr. Allison Milner
Dr. Allison Milner is a Deputy Director of the Disability and Health Unit, Melbourne School Population and Global Health, the University of Melbourne. Her current areas of research interests include the influence of gender, employment characteristics, quality of work, and occupation as determinants of mental health and suicide. Allison also focuses on specific employed groups that may be particularly likely to face disadvantage, such as blue-collar workers in the manufacturing and construction industry. Allison’s work ranges across a number of externally-funded etiologic and intervention projects. She works with key policy stakeholders to promote research on the link between work and mental health, and is the co-chair for an international panel of researchers aiming to promote workplace suicide prevention. She has been awarded the Victorian Health and Medical Research Fellowship for her work on gender, employment and mental health. In this work, she is progressing the concept of “gendered working environments” as a cause of health inequalities. For more information on this and every episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/30
While peer support and peer specialist efforts have long existed in areas of mental health communities and post-critical incidents, their role in suicide prevention has been more recent. Some feared that peer support might increase vulnerability through the “copycat” phenomenon. Others were concerned that suicide was just too complicated of an issue for peers to try to take on.
Then we listened to the voices of people with lived experience with suicidal intensity who told us over and over that peers played an incredibly influential role in not only bringing them back from the brink, but giving them new reasons for living and hope. Peer supporters and peer specialists also told us that helping others helped them.
The Helper Effect
This “Helper Effect” is a well-established phenomenon where people use the wisdom they have gained through living with a problem to help others with the same or similar problem, and in return their own recovery is strengthened. There are many reasons why this is so:
Makes meaning and affirms recovery.
When we are applying the insight from our own experience while helping others, we can sometimes think, “Well, I wish I never had to go through my hard time, but now that I have, I can use my inner wisdom to help another in a way I wouldn’t have been able to without the experience.”
Feelings of social value and respect.
Helping others is an honorable role — even when we feel like imposters — we can feel a boost when others have confidence in our abilities and knowledge.
Keeps helper accountable to wellness.
When we find ourselves in a position of supporting another person, we often think, “I need to take care of myself for me AND because now I am a role model for someone else.” OR as my colleague Chris Carlough once said, “You are like a lifeguard — you can’t be tired if you are saving the lives of others; you need to be strong enough for two.”
When we “have each other’s backs” and are willing to be vulnerable with one another, we develop high trust relationships. Our safety net for emotional crises is strengthened.
It feels good to do good.
When we connect in positive ways our brain releases endorphins and oxytocin that helps us feel bonded and improves our self-image.
In this interview I get the honor of chatting with Lt. John Coppedge, whom I met through the Denver Police Department’s Peer Support Program. Lt. Coppedge was a key leader in our “Breaking the Silence” video and training workbook with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Here he shares his journey about his own trauma history and how it has helped shape his passion for peer support.
Lt. John Coppedge
About Lt. John Coppedge
John Coppedge has served as a police officer with the Denver Police Department since 1992. He currently serves as the Director of Training, as well as supervising the departments employee wellness and resiliency program. He has volunteered as a peer counselor with the agency’s Peer Support team since 2002. John received his BA in Communication with a minor in Psychology from Regis University, graduating Summa Cum Laude. He is pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling also from Regis University.
When not working, John enjoys spending time with his wife Joni, his children and grandchildren. For more information on this and every episode go to https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/29