Dr. Sally Speaks Blog

Sharing the stories, science and strategy of suicide prevention. 

Workplaces Coping with the Trauma and Grief of Suicide

The majority of people who die by suicide are of working age, and almost all of them are employed, previously employed or a family member of someone employed at the time of death; however, workplaces are often ill-equipped to provide grief and trauma support after such a tragedy. Many workplaces, if they provide grief support at all, do not usually take into account the complexities or duration often needed to cope in the aftermath of suicide.

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RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS NEEDED: Mental Health in the Workplace

Are you in HR? An employment lawyer? Someone with lived experience with mental health or suicide who was working at the time you experienced a mental health issue while employed? If so — we want to hear from you! Please, take our 15-20 minute survey. This research project is a collaborative effort among Dr. Anthony Fulginiti of the University of Denver, Judge (Ret.) Mary McClatchey, the Employers Council and United Suicide Survivors International (through me!).

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Kicking the Tires of Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP): 15 Questions Workplaces Should Ask to Strengthen the Mental Health Safety Net

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) might be one of the best kept secrets for many employers. Instead, EAPs should be resources widely publicized to help encourage managers, employees, and often their family members (when benefits extend to family) so that their support services for personal and workplace problems that have the potential to negatively affect work can promote vibrant workers and mitigate risk. Many employers simply “check the box” when signing up for this benefit, figuring health insurance will cover the mental health needs of their employees; however, most employers really don’t know what the EAP services entail or the value the services can bring to a workplace. 

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Ikigai: How to Get from Work-Life Chaos to Confluence

…Ikigai — a Japanese concept that brings together two words meaning “alive” and “things that make life worth living.” Ikigai is a practice from the culture of Okinawa that is credited for the long vibrant work lives and good health that allow the people in the region to thrive into old age. At the heart of this philosophy is the notion that one will allow the possibilities of the self to blossom by doing what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for and what you are good at. A confluence of all things important…

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From Heartache to Happiness: 5 Daily Practices of Love that Lead to Well-Being

There are many forms of love from Eros the passionate love to Philia, the love we have for our family. Another type of love — Agape — is also tied to our well-being. Agape is the universal love we feel for each other and our world. When we send this form of love through kindness, gratitude or other forms of altruism, it not only helps others, it helps us.

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Men and Suicide Loss: An Often Invisible Grief

…Most men in our survey attributed to any differences in suicide grief between men and women to male socialization to be strong and self-reliant and at the same time, many wished that they had access to more supportive men-friendly resources during their bereavement. We know that family members who have lost someone to suicide have an increased risk of suicide themselves — partly because of the exposure effect, partly because the suffering is so great, and partly because of the yearning to be with their loved one. Thus, we owe it to the men who want different options for suicide grief support — perhaps peer-to-peer, one-on-one, or side-by-side — to find innovative ways to help men honor their losses and find ways to integrate the tragedy into their life’s story.

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The Paradox of Traumatic Grief

…The course of a complicated bereavement, like the process that often follows suicide, usually does not follow the straightforward path outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross so many decades ago, but rather twists and turns and circles back on itself through mazes of denial, sadness, anger, shame, blame, and multiple physical reactions.  Several authors have described an “oscillating process” in complicated bereavement – a moving back and forth between loss-orientation and restoration orientation, between growth and depreciation…

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What can we do to help Veterans’ mental health? Hire them.

…Some employers do not want to hire Veterans for fear they might have PTSD or performance limiting conditions. This remarkable stigma exists and is actually a form of discrimination. The prejudice persists despite the fact that Service Members are expertly trained, and capable of remarkable problem-solving, teamwork and leadership.

Part of the difficulty Veterans face is that the civilian work culture is often far different than the one in which they thrived, and often the level of discipline and performance is below their expectations. Whether it’s the Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force or the Coast Guard, veterans count themselves as being part of something bigger than themselves. Assimilating to a new standard becomes all the more difficult when transitioning into a new field….

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Sally Spencer-Thomas
We Can Do Better….Together: The 3Cs to Our Success

…I have learned that “together we are better.”


This week, I am reminded of the many ways we need each other. Here are just a couple of ways this theme of interdependence is showing up in my life in just the last few days. These three lessons I’ve learned this week illuminate how our deep, reciprocal connections matter… 

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ANNOUNCEMENT: Results from National Survey on Workplace Suicide Prevention Guidelines

Today the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention's Workplace Task Force in partnership with United Suicide Survivors International and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shared preliminary data from a national survey on workplace suicide prevention.

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7 Untold Stories of Suicide Prevention and Suicide Grief Support

…I don’t really have the chops to be a researcher or the patience to be a clinician, but I often find myself in new territories, listening to people share their insights about living through unimaginable suffering. Then I look to connect partners much smarter than I who can make a difference in alleviating that despair. So, as I am listening, I think to myself, “there are the stories I wish we would talk about more.” 

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ANNOUNCEMENT: Survey on the Development of the National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention

Today the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and United Suicide Survivors International announces the launch of a survey designed to assist with the development of the first set of guidelines for workplace suicide prevention in the U.S.

The purpose of the 5-minute survey is to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide their opinions for the guidelines — content, format, dissemination, implementation and evaluation.

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Sally Spencer-Thomas
From Awareness to Action: Kickstarting a Revolution in Suicide Prevention with Social Courage

It seems fitting that on this day — July 4th — I should write a little something about kickstarting a revolution.


June was overwhelming for many in my suicide prevention tribe — the scientists, advocates, clinicians, crisis call-takers, peer supporters, and many people with all forms of lived experience with suicide — as many of us were called upon to respond to the seemingness constant barrage of tragic news about suicide and trauma.

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One Woman’s Thoughts on Masculinity: Why We All Must Dig Deeper in Our Understanding of What it Means to Be a Man

Given that men in the middle years are dying by suicide at increasingly higher rates, I spend much of my time speaking and training in male-dominated industries like construction, transportation, veteran and first responder communities. The men I have met along the way have taught me much about resilience and honor…

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ANNOUNCEMENT: National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) Commences Gap Analysis to Improve Suicide Prevention in Fire Service

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation announced today that it will be partnering with Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas...to explore gaps and strengths in firefighter suicide prevention. This comprehensive evaluation will help set the direction for a new national suicide prevention program.

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What If They Say “Yes” to the Suicide Question? Four Responses That Make a Difference

What if you ask someone if they are thinking about suicide, and they say, “yes”? What do you say?

1)      Express gratitude

The first words out of your mouth: “thank you.”

“Thank you for trusting me.”

“Thank you for your courage to be vulnerable with me.”

“Thank you for valuing our relationship.”

Often when people express daunting thoughts about suicide they expect to be judged. They anticipate that others will react in negative ways such as fear, anger, minimizing, or shaming. When they hear a genuine expression of gratitude, often they are put at ease. This honoring response creates a safe space to move into next steps. Starting here is starting from a place of dignity and respect...

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Moonlight Walks with the Zen Master: Four Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog Apache

This week I had to say goodbye to one of my confidants and greatest supporters, my 13 year-old Australian Cattle Dog Mutt, Apache. Today is Valentine’s Day, and this is my love letter to him and my gratitude for all he taught me about living a great life.

We rescued Apache from Denver’s largest animal shelter when he was nine months old in 2005. My kids were little; just 7, 4 and one year. We all gathered in the meet-and-greet room, and Apache was on his best behavior. We brought him home, and I immediately became his human....

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Sally Spencer-Thomas