Follow by Email

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Holidays and Suicide Loss

Excerpted from Surviving Suicide Loss: A Resource and Healing Guide available at 

Celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and other occasions after a suicide loss can be challenging. These events can bring up painful memories and feelings, but they also can provide an opportunity to celebrate your loved one.
Follow your intuition and do what feels best to you. You can always choose a different way to observe the occasion the next time. Here are some ways to handle occasions that other survivors of a suicide loss have found helpful.
·    Think about your family's holiday traditions. Consider which ones you would like to continue, and which you would not. Consider developing new traditions if that feels best.

     Other family members or friends may feel differently than you do about the way occasions have been celebrated in the past. As you are able, talk openly together about your preferences before the holiday so you will know what to expect.
     Consider whether you want to be with your family and friends for the holiday, or whether it would be more healing for you to be with a smaller group or by yourself this time. Consider taking a trip if that feels right.

      Be aware that anticipating an event is sometimes harder than the event itself.

     If you find it comforting to talk about your loved one, let your family and friends know that in advance. Tell them it’s okay to mention your loved one's name.

     If you would find it comforting, make a plan to get your loved one’s friends and family together to acknowledge her or his birthday. If spending the day alone feels like a better choice, or with just one or two close friends or family, that’s okay, too.

     Some people who have lost someone to suicide find this ritual helpful for observing holiday gatherings:

      Light two candles, then blow one out. Explain that the extinguished candle represents the person lost to suicide, and the one that continues to burn represents the loved ones who are present, carrying the memory of our loved one. Let the candle burn throughout the holiday meal or event, placing it aside if you like. The glowing flame remains a quiet reminder of the one who is missing.

·    Above all, bear in mind that there is no correct way to handle holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays. You and your family may decide to try several different approaches before finding one that feels best.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Conference Call Agenda

Virginia Suicide Prevention Coalition
December 9, 2014
866 842 5779, conference code 852 794 4303

Introductions (All):   Who are you?  What area of the state are you working in?  What activities are you supporting at this time?

A brief history of the Coalition:  Christy

Discussion:  Growing the work of the coalition:  Who else should be included?

Concerns on the horizon?  Things we can help support

Creating a roster

Next meeting?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Virginia Suicide Prevention Coalition
Save the date!

Who:  All interested stakeholders in suicide prevention in Virginia
What:  Conference Call
When:  Tuesday, December 9th from 1:30pm to 3:30pm

This conference call is an attempt to connect all concerned stakeholders working on any level to prevent suicide.  We will use this first call for introductions, regional updates, to identify challenges and to plan next steps for our prevention work in the State.

Call details and agenda to follow.

Please feel free to share this save the date with anyone working to prevent suicide who is interested in being part of the call.

If you are unable to attend, but interested in the work, please feel free to be in touch with Christy Letsom.  Ideas and agenda items are welcome.

Updates will be posted to

Monday, October 27, 2014

SafeTALK Training

Suicide Alertness Training for Everyone

Sunday, November 2, 2014
2:00-5:00 p.m.
Saint Patrick Catholic School,
1000 Bolling Ave., Norfolk, VA 23508

Everyone can be trained to be a safeTALK Alert Helper.
School Personnel, Clinicians, Youth Leaders, Parents, Clergy, Resident Assistants, Coaches and all Individuals who work with people at risk and survivors would benefit from this program.


To register, please email: Michelle Peterson
The Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation

Only 30 spots are available for this training. Register ASAP.

This free training is being offered by AFSP VA Chapter in Formation
in partnership with The Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation, Norfolk VA.

safeTALK, a program of LivingWorks,  is three hour suicide alertness training is presented by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  This training prepares anyone over the age of 15 to identify persons with thoughts of suicide and connect them to suicide first aid resources. Most people with thoughts of suicide invite help to stay safe. Alert helpers know how to use these opportunities to support that desire for safety.

Expect to be challenged…expect to have feelings…expect to be hopeful.  Most persons with thoughts of suicide go unrecognized—even though they are, directly or indirectly, requesting help.  Without suicide prevention knowledge and skills, these invitations often go unaccepted, or even unnoticed. With more suicide alert helpers, more people with thoughts of suicide will get connected to the intervention help they want.  Suicide alert helpers are part of a suicide-safer community. Powerful video clips illustrate both non-alert and alert responses. Discussion and practice help stimulate learning.  Learn steps that contribute to saving lives. 

Practice the TALK steps – Tell, Ask, Listen and Keep Safe.

CEU’s are available for safeTALK training attendees.

For additional information on safeTALK or to obtain CEU information,
please contact Melanie Varady at

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monthly Update of Suicide Prevention Activities

From Anya Shaffer, Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator, Virginia Department of Health

Get Ready for World Suicide Prevention Day
September 10, 2014 is World Suicide Prevention Day. You can find materials to help you plan and implement activities for this important occasion on the International Association for Suicide Prevention website.

Comment on SAMHSA's Strategic Plan for 2015–2018
Feedback Deadline: Monday, August 18, 2014
SAMHSA is the agency within HHS that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the Nation. This strategic plan outlines work to increase the awareness and improve understanding about mental and substance use disorders; promote emotional health and wellness, and the prevention of substance abuse and mental illness; increase access to effective treatment; and support recovery. An important component of the plan is to prioritize six Strategic Initiatives and the linkages between these initiatives and SAMHSA's policy, programmatic, and financial planning. At its core, this plan offers a framework for common categories of initiatives that enables cross-collaboration and organization of SAMHSA's work.

New Report Gives Voice to Suicide Attempt Survivors
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force has released The Way Forward, a report which gives voice to suicide attempt survivors and bridges the gap between suicide attempt survivors, clinicians, hospital policy makers, and suicide prevention leaders. The Way Forward summarizes eight core values and offers a lens through which suicide prevention can be envisioned to embrace safety and bring hope and meaning to those in suicidal despair. Read The Way Forward and the press release about this pivotal path for change and a roadmap to save lives.

Model School Policy from the Trevor Project
Reducing the risk of youth suicide requires making positive changes. To help make it easier for schools to prevent, assess, intervene in, and respond to suicidal behavior, The Trevor Project has collaborated to create a Model School District Policy for Suicide Prevention. This modular, adaptable document will help educators and school administrators implement comprehensive suicide prevention policies in communities nationwide. Download our fact sheet and full policy today – by adopting or advocating for this model policy in your school district, you can help protect the health and safety of all students.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention  Releases Bulletin That Examines Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among Detained Youth
OJJDP has released “Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among Detained Youth.” The bulletin is part of OJJDP's Beyond Detention series, which examines the findings of the Northwestern Juvenile Project—a large-scale longitudinal study of youth detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago, IL. This bulletin summarizes the study’s methods, findings, and implications of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among detained youth ages 10–18. The authors examined rates of suicidal ideation and behaviors, the relationship between suicide attempts and psychiatric disorders, and differences by gender and race/ethnicity.

Sharing Our Wisdom: A New Resource for AI/AN Communities
Sharing Our Wisdom is a new web-based resource that presents stories of projects that promote resilience and prevent suicide in American Indian/Alaskan Native communities. The first story in this series is from a rural area of Alaska.

Suicide Prevention Resources for Adult Corrections
SPRC’s The Role of Adult Corrections Officers in Preventing Suicide and Suicide Prevention Resources for Adult Corrections provide information and resources to help staff in adult corrections facilities prevent suicides.

Suicide Reporting and Mass Media
Suicide is a significant psychiatric and public health problem. It is not surprising that there is some influence of the media on people’s thoughts and behaviors. Although it is unrealistic to censor all potentially negative depictions of suicide in the media, it is important to consider our responsibility to patients and the health of the general population using our understanding of the role of the media and potential interventions. The purpose of the present article is to review the evidence regarding the relationship between suicide and its depiction in mass media.

New Study: LGBT Youth More Likely than Heterosexual Youth to Attempt Suicide
Based on Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Surveys (YRBSs) a new study examined rates of serious suicide attempts requiring medical attention; results indicated that suicide attempt rates were much higher in sexual minority than heterosexual youth.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Talking about Suicide and Robin Williams"

This blog post is reprinted with permission from Hollis Easter.  Please read more of Hollis' articles about mental health and suicide at

Robin Williams died today, at 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s department released a press statement saying they suspect it of being suicide by asphyxiation, and there’s other news on their site.
There will be a media frenzy about this for the next little while, and a lot of people are going to be talking about it. I want to help people talk about it in a way that’s as respectful and safe as possible for vulnerable people, so here are a few thoughts and requests.

Be respectful about thoughts of suicide

Wherever you are, there are people near you who are struggling with their own thoughts of suicide. Some of them are going to feel strongly affected by Williams’s death, and the research shows that a small subset of that group will find that this news pushes their own thoughts of suicide into the forefront.
Please be careful how you talk about what happened with Robin Williams, because these folks will hear your words and may apply them to their own situations. Do you feel that he was a sick or weak person because he had these thoughts? How would that thought sound to these other folks? Did he “lose his battle” by acting on his thoughts of suicide? Be aware that, in the ears of a vulnerable person, you may be calling them weak too.
In particular, please don’t call suicide a “permanent solution to a temporary problem”. Whether or not the problems really are temporary, it doesn’t help the person at risk to have their troubles minimized—it just paints us as being out of touch. You don’t actually need to do that much talking about suicide itself; instead, get the person talking about what they’re feeling and why they’re considering suicide. It’s fine to help them see that these feelings may not last forever—but the “permanent solution” language is really toxic for a lot of people. Leave the labels behind and get the person talking.
Research suggests that about 5% of people (1 in 20) report thinking about suicide in any given year. That makes having thoughts of suicide seem pretty normal, but only a small group of people will act on those thoughts. If you look around, you will see people who are fighting—and winning—their own battle with suicide every day. Be respectful about how you talk about the issue.
People who’ve never struggled with suicide often seem to think that considering suicide is a choice. That, if only they knew how stupid it was to consider suicide, people would just stop thinking about it. I’ve worked on a suicide hotline for the last 15 years. Believe me when I say that most of the suicidal people I’ve talked to would have given anything to be able to make those thoughts go away. Be kind.
If you’re a person who has thoughts of suicide and the news about Williams is pushing your buttons, please reach out for help. If you live anywhere in the USA, you can dial 1-800-273-TALK and get the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is free and confidential and open 24/7.

Talk directly about suicide

It’s okay to use the words. Suicide. Killing yourself. Wanting to die.
We don’t need to be afraid of the words, and using clear language helps us communicate better. There’s no evidence to suggest that talking directly about suicide hurts vulnerable people, and there’s a lot of it showing that direct talk helps to reduce stigma and help vulnerable folks feel like they can talk openly about how they’re struggling.
“Committed suicide” isn’t great because it feels pretty judgmental (we commit sins). “Lost his battle” feels like it’s labeling him as weak.
So use the other words. It looks like Robin Williams died by suicide, may have killed himself, may have taken his own life. It’s okay to use the words. If you want to know more about the terms we use in the suicide intervention world, check out my guide and my other guide.

Remember the whole person

Williams’s wife has asked that we remember Robin Williams primarily by honoring the man he was, not merely by examining the way he died.
He lived a life that meant a lot to us. He was a brilliant comedian whose imitations inspired me as a child, whose ability to improvise staggers me with its breadth and clarity. He knew timing. He did good work and helped us to look at some important, difficult things in life, and he helped us do it with a twinkle in our eyes. Turns out that he was also struggling with depression, possibly bipolar disorder, and thoughts of suicide.
It’s important to talk openly and honestly about suicide, and to grieve for the loss we feel. We feel hurt by his death, and feel that he was taken from us too soon. That’s real, and that’s fine to talk about. But let’s refrain from making Williams a caricature of his own life. Suicide was a part of it, sure, but let’s not reinvent his whole life in this context.

Avoid assumptions about Williams’s treatment history

A lot of the initial stories have focused on Williams’s alleged history of struggling with bipolar disorder, and I’ve read a ton of Facebook statuses and tweets saying “if only he could have gotten treatment” or “I wish he’d known there was help available”.
This is well-intentioned but not really that helpful. We don’t know whether Williams was receiving treatment or not, but the sad truth is that treatment doesn’t always work. Medicine is imperfect. People react to different drugs and therapies differently, and there’s no magic solution out there. The field of psychiatry is getting better at treating bipolar disorder, and there’s a lot of reason to be hopeful, but it’s not anywhere close to 100% yet.
Remember, most people with thoughts of suicide want to stop having them. If treatment were easy and fully effective in all cases, don’t you think most people would have taken that option already?
If it helps you to understand why this sort of statement is unhelpful, imagine that Williams had died of cancer. Would it feel useful to say “oh, if only he’d known that treatment was available!” or “he should have fought harder”?
Would it help his family to hear that people made those assumptions about how easily Williams could have gotten better? Remember that the survivors of suicide loss are all around us, too.

Do encourage people to seek help

For a lot of people, talking about their thoughts of suicide helps them to go away. Some people need the help of a trained professional, and some people need drug treatment or hospitalization. But a lot of people just need a caring person to listen. If someone starts telling you about their own thoughts of suicide in the aftermath of this, stay present and listen.
Ask them why they’re feeling that way. Let them talk about the reasons for it. Start with the feelings. Don’t try to shove reasons for living down their throats—they won’t be able to breathe. They know there’s stuff worth living for; let them talk about the reasons they’re thinking about dying.
And encourage them to keep talking, to you and to others. As I said above, invite people to talk to the NSPL at 1-800-273-TALK or call a crisis line or reach out to other caregivers.

Avoid assuming it’s suicide

We know that Robin Williams has died, and the coroner has preliminarily ruled it a suicide. That said, we still don’t know for sure—they’ve also said that the investigation continues and there will be a press conference tomorrow. There can be benign (non-suicidal) reasons for a person dying by asphyxia at home. Let’s do our best to refrain from contributing to the frenzy about suicide until the professionals have reached their conclusions. Actually, let’s do our best to hold back the frenzy even afterwards.

Talk about suicide and mental health

This is a big one. This is what we need to be doing if we want to prevent deaths by suicide in the long term. There remains a huge amount of social stigma around thoughts of suicide and mental health concerns in general, and it’s still hard for people to get help.
Tons of our hotline callers tell us they feel they can’t talk to their doctors or families about the way they’re feeling because they fear people won’t understand, will judge them, will label them, will lock them up, or simply won’t listen. We can and should do better.
So let’s talk about it, and not just in the gossip-ridden aftermath of a celebrity’s death. Let’s talk about expanding access to health care for all citizens, and then let’s make sure that we train health care workers about mental health AND build systems that give them enough patient contact time to have these crucial conversations.
Let’s make it easier to get access to mental health care, and let’s fund agencies that do the work. Let’s have the hard conversations about how we care for people who struggle with suicide in our communities, and let’s actively seek the voices of the people who struggle so we don’t make too many assumptions about what would help.
There’s a whole group of professionals who’ve learned a lot about how suicide happens and what we can do to prevent it. I’m one of them. We’re doing our best to get the messages out, but we need help. Will you help us? Join a suicide awareness group or help out with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Talk to your legislators about securing funding for mental health and crisis organizations, and ask them to help make that funding a lasting priority. Talk to your family and friends about suicide, and let’s start treating it like a public health topic rather than a sin.
Most of all, let’s keep talking—and do it with respect and kindness in our hearts.
(My background: I run a suicide hotline and served for years on the national governing board for crisis hotlines. I teach several different suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention curricula, and if you’d like more information, please ask. Remember that if you need to talk to someone about thoughts of suicide, there’s probably a crisis hotline near you. 1-800-273-TALK is a great starting point anywhere in the USA.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mental Health First Aid Training

Mental Health First Aid Training (please forward)
The Campus Suicide Prevention Center of Virginia, in partnership with the The Planning Council and the Virginia Department of Health will sponsor the Mental Health First Aid course on July 1, 2014 in Norfolk, VA
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) teaches participants the skills needed to identify and support those with mental illnesses and substance use disorders. It is appropriate for all caregivers and natural helpers. 

MHFA is an 8-hour, highly interactive course that:
·     Provides an overview of mental illness and substance use disorders,
·     Introduces risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, as well as their impact on individuals,
·     Provides an overview of common treatments.
Participants who complete the course certify as “Mental Health First Aiders”; they learn the skills and resources needed to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate care.
To learn more, go to:
Because of the generous support of the Virginia Department of Health's Division of Injury and Violence Prevention, this training will be offered at no cost; the course is typically valued at $250.  All training materials will be provided; lunch will be "on your own".

Space is limited to 25 participants per training.  Because of the demand for seats, please register only if you are able to attend the full 8 hour course.

Online registration is available at: