International Survivors of Suicide Day; Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Tomorrow, Saturday, November 17th, is International Survivors of Suicide Day. Earlier this week I spoke with Sally Spencer-Thomas, CEO and co-founder of the Carson J Spencer Foundation to find out about the history and goals of this annual event and to learn more about what her organization is doing to promote suicide prevention and awareness in Denver and across the state of Colorado. 

The WellPower: What is International Survivors of Suicide day? Who is it for?

Sally: International Survivors of Suicide Day was created primarily for people bereaved by suicide. For a lot of people who participate, it’s the very first time they’ve ever uttered the word. Each year in attendance, there’s always the “old guard” who have been connected [to suicide prevention and awareness efforts in Denver], but every year we always meet people who have never been connected. Communities of people bereaved by suicide gather around the world in the effort to build a sense of solidarity, give the grieving resources for healing, and offer them space to honor their loved ones with dignity.

The WellPower: How and where do people connect?

Sally: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention tries to make {the program} as accessible as possible. This year, key planning was coming to a head when Hurricane Sandy hit. So we’re hopeful that all of their materials will be able to get where they are supposed to get and that hosting locations are prepared to participate. In Colorado, the following places are holding events to honor this day (all events held on Saturday, November 17th):

  • Fort Lewis College, Durango
    10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. 
  • International Survivors of Suicide Day
    Jubilee Fellowship Church, Highlands Ranch,
    9 a.m. – Noon
    Download the flyer 
  • International Survivors of Suicide Day
    Weld County, 6 p.m.
    Journey Christian Church

The WellPower: What does the program involve?

Sally: The format varies from site to site, some are just a two-hour viewing of a video made by AFSP, others create a ½-day conference including speakers, candlelighting ceremonies and workshops. The video provided by AFSP offers interviews with a number of survivors of loss and suicide grief experts who share different perspectives on the impact of suicide and what surviving suicide has been like for them. It’s a very powerful experience.

The WellPower: I get the impression that in Denver there is a well-organized community organized around the issue of suicide prevention and awareness. What are your thoughts?

Sally: Colorado is one of the pioneering states in developing and applying a community approach to suicide prevention. Bereaved parents started organizing around this issue in the late 1990’s, and quickly recognized that they needed to develop a strategy to promote awareness of the issue. Their leadership was the catalyst for a funded Office of Suicide Prevention in Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment. Because of this, Colorado was one of the first states to have both a public office of suicide prevention and a coordinated statewide citizen-led suicide coalition. Many other states look to us as a model.

The WellPower: The WellPower (@WellPower_news) follows you on Twitter—we noticed that you tweeted about an upcoming workshop hosted by your organization, the Carson J Spencer Foundation. Can you tell us more about that program?

Sally: Great – and thank you for following (@CJSFoundation) The program is called “Working Minds; Suicide Prevention in the workplace.” The next train-the-trainer workship is on November 20th and we’re still taking registrations here: Back in 2009 we developed a “Working Minds” tool kit that we used to help employers train strategic staff people—including managers, supervisors, and other natural leaders within an organization—to recognize the risk factors and warning signs of suicide in the workplace. In 2010 the program was on the National Best Practices registry, which then led to a whole bunch of invitations. We’re now working with employers throughout Denver to train staff and workers on preventing suicide in the workplace. All of the exercises are based on workplace scenarios. For more information on all that the Working Minds program has to offer, visit

The WellPower: Where else is the Carson J Spencer Foundation having an impact in suicide prevention and awareness?

Sally: Our youth suicide prevention program—called “FIRE Within”—has really caught on quickly. The program offers a hands-on, year-long curriculum that engages high school students in entrepreneurship by teaching them business skills that address root causes of suicide like isolation, bullying and barriers to mental health services. They actually create businesses that raise money for and shift culture around these community problems. . In the planning phase of this project, our investments goal was to be in 50 schools by 2013, and we’re on track to deliver this. We scaled from 10 to 20 this year, and we expect to be at 50 by September of 2013. For more information on our FIRE Within program, visit

The WellPower: How can people find out more about International Survivors of Suicide Day and about the Carson J Spencer Foundation?

Sally: Information about International Survivors of Suicide Day can be found on the AFSP website at, and further information about our organization is available on our website at

The WellPower would like to thank Sally Spencer-Thomas for her time and participation and for her leadership around the issue of suicide prevention and awareness in our community.