Suicides by active-duty troops and veterans are at levels that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Each day, on average, a current service member dies by suicide, and each hour a veteran does the same.

In response, President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act in February. The act aims to make information on suicide prevention more easily available to veterans; it offers financial incentives to mental health professionals who work with vets; and it requires an annual evaluation of the military’s mental health programs by an independent source.

The law is commendable, but it won’t come close to ending military suicides. That would require radical changes in the policies, procedures, attitudes and culture in two of our biggest bureaucracies: the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Fifteen years ago, the suicide rate among patients in a large HMO in Detroit was seven times the national average. Its leaders decided to try to end suicides — not just reduce them but end them. In four years, the incidence of suicide at the HMO was reduced 75%; with more tinkering, the rate went down to zero, and has stayed there, at last count, for 2 1/2 years. The difference was an all-out commitment to the cause.

Every time a patient sought care, regardless of the reason, he or she was assessed for suicide risk. Every employee who came in contact with patients was rigorously trained in suicide prevention. Specific interventions were established for each of three risk levels.

The HMO also implemented measures to provide timely care by enabling patients to get immediate help through email with physicians, to make same-day medical appointments and to get prescriptions filled the same day too.

A similar commitment by the military could achieve dramatic results, at least among active-duty troops. These troops are in the system now, their activities are being monitored regularly, so there are plenty of opportunities for assessment and treatment.

If the military followed the Detroit model, all troops would be evaluated for post-traumatic stress and suicide risk when they return home, not just those who ask for help. Evaluations would happen more than once; they would be in person and one-on-one, not with written questionnaires. In addition, families would be interviewed, separately and confidentially.

And treatment and claims would be expedited. Veterans shouldn’t have to wait a year or more to receive healthcare or have their claims processed.

Then there is the matter of stigma. It’s not the military’s responsibility alone to destigmatize psychological problems, but there are steps the military can take.

Service members with PTSD who are able to manage it should be strongly considered for promotions just as though they had recovered from physical wounds. Their ability to overcome mental injury should be recognized, so it inspires others.

Purple Hearts are awarded to soldiers who suffer a serious physical wound in combat; they should also be awarded to those who suffer serious mental health injuries in combat. Injuries are injuries and none should be minimized.

Finally, just as good-conduct medals and combat awards are bestowed on troops, so should commendations be given when soldiers recognize that their comrades need help and act on their behalf.

This is just a start. To keep its troops mentally healthy, the Defense Department must reduce the number and duration of combat deployments and do more to prepare troops for assymetrical warfare. It must help them adjust to life when they come home — with jobs, housing, loans and legal assistance. It must enforce, not just approve, a policy of zero tolerance related to sexual harassment and assault.

Each element has a price, and collectively the cost will be astronomical. We must be prepared to pay it if we are sincere in our commitment to support our troops.

John Bateson was executive director of a nationally certified suicide prevention center in the San Francisco Bay Area for 16 years. His latest book is “The Last and Greatest Battle: Finding the Will, Commitment, and Strategy to End Military Suicides.”

The original article can be found here.

Three months before his May 2009 suicide on the Caltrain tracks in Palo Alto, 17-year-old Jean-Paul “JP” Blanchard wrote on Facebook about trying to help a woman in a wheelchair navigate through a Starbucks.

The story offered no explicit clues that the Gunn High School junior was depressed or suicidal. But it did offer insights. And to his mother, Kathleen, it confirmed everyone’s impression that JP was intelligent, sensitive and empathetic — maybe especially so.

“The thing that made him special was that he noticed and cared for others,” she says.

But the post also revealed how much JP could agonize over everyday situations. He wondered if he should have done more for the woman, but he was also angry that he was the only customer to give up a “precious spot” in line to open the door for her.

“Why was I, the youngest person in the place, the one to go help?” he asked. His anger quickly toggled into the wish that sharing the story would inspire others to commit “acts of kindness.”

In the nearly five years since her son’s death, Kathleen Blanchard has tried to understand why. She talked to his friends, read through things he’d written, but questions remain. Still, in the process, she gained insights she hopes might help other young people who are struggling with depression and other serious mental health disorders. A recent suicide in Palo Alto prompted Blanchard, along with JP’s girlfriend, Lydia Huang, to talk to this newspaper and share a message with teens who might be contemplating suicide: Don’t despair — you can get through this.

The need to help kids has taken on renewed urgency in Palo Alto. It may be home to one of America’s most prestigious universities and achievers who define a 21st-century idea of success. But the city also has become the focus of a national discussion about suicide, mental illness and academic pressure on teens.

In the year after JP’s death, four more Palo Alto teens died at the same railroad crossing. Another cluster of youth suicides began in October. The most recent was the death of a 15-year-old Palo Alto High School sophomore. In all, 12 Palo Alto teens are known to have died by suicide since 2008.

Palo Alto isn’t the only Bay Area city grappling with this issue. Nationwide, suicide is the third leading cause of death of young people ages 15 to 24. This past fall in the East Bay, the Contra Costa Crisis Center gave a presentation on suicide prevention in East Contra Costa in response to a spate of suicides, including ones involving 11- and 15-year-olds.

Most people who die this way are suffering from a diagnosable mental health or substance abuse disorder, says Lesley Garcia, the call center’s team leader. Significant to note, Garcia adds, is that an estimated 80 percent have given some warning of their intentions.

Teens can be especially vulnerable, she says, in part because they can be impulsive. When a teen already harbors suicidal thoughts, a romantic rejection or a bad grade can overwhelm her with the feeling that this event defines her and the pain will never end.

“Adults might know this feeling won’t last forever, that it will be over if I get another job or make some other change,” Garcia says. “For youth, it’s hard to see past the pain they are feeling.”

Also, teens may work hard to hide their pain, she says, and feel pressure to succeed, fit in and gain peer acceptance.

“On social media, everyone is going to parties, having great spring break trips, and teenagers want to be like everyone else,” Garcia says. “They don’t want to show what’s really going on inside.”


Blanchard regards her son’s life as a “mystery novel.” As she sits in her bright, sunny family room, with photos of JP and his younger sisters displayed on the walls, she says, “My son’s life was a book, 17 chapters as it were. Certainly, the last chapter was very sad … but as I go back and sort of review that mystery book, things pop out as clues that maybe I didn’t see as clues before.”

Recent public forums in Palo Alto have focused on ways to alleviate teen stress by enforcing the schools’ homework policy, possibly changing school start times to reduce sleep deprivation and addressing the culture of competition.

With JP, academic stress wasn’t an issue. Blanchard says he had little trouble keeping up with classes, and he seemed to be thriving. “He was smart, he was talented, he played on a sports team, he had a loving family. We ate dinner together every night.”

Blanchard regrets not knowing that her son likely was dealing with an undiagnosed, untreated depression.

But she has since learned that parents are sometimes the last to know. The results of a 1980 study of San Mateo County high school students hold true today, prevention experts say. When asked whom they would turn to if they were contemplating suicide, students overwhelmingly said “a friend” — before parents, counselors, teachers or other adults.

Indeed, JP’s friends became privy to his comments about him being sad, lonely, out of sorts.

Huang, now a senior at Penn State studying psychology, began dating JP at Christmastime in 2008. She was a sophomore, and JP was her first love. On New Year’s Eve, he texted her to thank her for saving his life.

Over that winter, her boyfriend, who “was a great listener,” talked about feeling lonely, even though he was always surrounded by groups of friends. Then at some point, he startled her by saying he wanted to hurt himself. She told a couple of friends. “We had never dealt with something like that. None of us knew what to do.”

JP dismissed her suggestion to see a counselor: “He didn’t believe it would help, and I didn’t push it further.” At 16, and with no experience with suicide, Huang didn’t think that JP’s comments could reflect a genuine intent to take his own life.


Lauren Davis understands what it felt like from the other side. She was consumed with thoughts of suicide during her teens. At 16, Davis said she gave out signals that she was suicidal, though she was too ashamed to make her intentions explicit.

A self-described high achiever and two-sport athlete, Davis, now 28, says she cried in the dugout at softball games and told a calculus teacher that all she could think about was dying after getting a B-plus on a test. She knew her father suspected something was wrong, but neither he nor anyone else knew to ask if she was depressed or thinking about killing herself.

“It’s not something you can tiptoe around,” she says, repeating a basic tenet of suicide prevention. Asking a teen directly but compassionately if she’s depressed or suicidal shows you care and encourages a conversation. In addition, using the word “suicide” won’t put the idea into her head.

After being involved in a single-car accident, Davis told a friend it was a suicide attempt, even though it wasn’t. But the friend told her mother, which got Davis into treatment. She took anti-depressants through high school but was able to taper off in college. She became a Fulbright scholar and worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but now has her dream job at Forefront, a suicide prevention program at the University of Washington. She occasionally feels depressed but not suicidal.

“I really can’t relate to that feeling anymore,” says Davis, whose job involves trying to help students who are experiencing what she went through.

“If we can get these kids through these dark moments and dark months and get them connected to care,” she adds, “they can go on to live happy, healthy and flourishing lives.”

Huang isn’t sure she has forgiven herself for not sharing her concerns about JP with a trusted adult. But her experience informs her plan to return to Palo Alto and start a program focused on supporting mental health and suicide prevention among Asian-Americans.

Huang admitted that she was afraid Blanchard would be angry with her after JP’s death, but Blanchard understood the difficult position Huang and JP’s other friends were in. She and Huang have supported each other in their grief.

“The most important part of my healing was support from JP’s mom,” Huang says.

In befriending Huang or in sharing JP’s story, Blanchard is trying to live up to the model of kindness and empathy he set. She wants other families to have the chance to help their children, in a way her family didn’t.

“We can’t do anything about (what happened to JP),” she says. “We have to do better going forward.”

From Mercury News by Martha Ross.

As you may or may not be aware, suicide prevention was mentioned more than once last night during the Oscars.

Screenwriter Graham Moore used his win to bring attention to suicide awareness and depression during his acceptance speech. Suicide prevention was brought up again when Producer Dana Perry was accepting her Oscar for the best documentary short subject, “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.” Actor Graham Moore revealed he is a suicide attempt survivor, and Dana Perry dedicated her award to her son who died by suicide at the age of 15.

You can read more about both speeches here:

OAKLEY — Residents came together at a city-sponsored workshop Thursday night to learn how to prevent suicide in their community.

The suicide prevention and intervention workshop was co-hosted by the city and the Contra Costa Crisis Center in response to recent suicides, Councilwoman Diane Burgis said.

Lesley Garcia, a crisis intervention team leader and supervisor, presented a “Suicide 101” workshop that delved into available services in the region, suicide myths and realities, signs and risk factors and how to help a potentially suicidal person.

Garcia said she frequently works in East County and sees that the “community wants to change” and “do more to help each other.”

“It sounds like all of you have come together,” she said to the attendees.

More than 39,000 Americans committed suicide in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, Garcia said. That year, 116 people died of suicide in Contra Costa County and seven of those were younger than 24.

Garcia debunked common myths, such as it being impossible to stop someone who has made up his or her mind about committing suicide, or that talking about suicide will put the idea in someone’s head.

Being an active listener to a person contemplating suicide can result in them finding help, she said.

“If someone were to say something, maybe they’d be willing to talk about it,” Garcia said.

Event attendees practiced talking to people about suicide by asking one another questions such as, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”

She said signs of suicidal thoughts include verbal clues, mental illness, hopelessness, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, history of trauma or abuse, alcohol or substance abuse, family history of suicide, job or financial loss, relational or social loss, easy access to lethal means, sense of isolation, self-injury and low self-esteem.

The seminar and several like it have been held in response to recent suicides in the community, Burgis said.

The county coroner’s office reports eight people have committed suicide in Oakley this year. Deputy Scott Anderson said the last confirmed suicide occurred Sept. 23.

The event was held to educate residents about how to identify signs of a person having thoughts of suicide and how to intervene, Burgis said.

“I know that with this particular project, we’ll never know how many people we’ll help,” she said.

Burgis announced that the city is seeking volunteers who are interested in participating “in a core group who would like to keep this going throughout the year.” Volunteers will do community outreach and raise awareness about suicide prevention and intervention.

Oakley resident Michael Berry said he would like to volunteer for the outreach group because he is passionate about helping people in a crisis situation.

“When I hear about the suicides, it breaks my heart because there is help,” Berry said.

Berry, a psychology student, said he believes there are enough regional resources for those who need help, but there are not enough resources in Oakley.

“I’m excited to see Oakley take it seriously,” Berry said.

For more information on the Contra Costa Crisis Center, visit or call 800-833-2900.

Contact Katrina Cameron at 925-779-7164. Follow her at

By Katrina Cameron Contra Costa Times

Diablo Magazine will recognize one of our amazing volunteers, Jane Emanuel at their Threads of Hope on Thursday, December 4, 2014.

View their invitation!


On October 23, Bernard Mayes, multi-talented journalist, Episcopal priest, and community activist, passed away in San Francisco. He was the founding force behind the Suicide Prevention movement in America, launching in San Francisco the first of what would eventually become a network of over 500 community crisis centers. He went on to become a pioneer in public broadcasting as a founder of KQED and as chair of the founding board of National Public Radio (NPR). At his side at the end were his friends and former housemates, Will Scott and Matthew Chayt, reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXVI, Let me not to the marriage of true minds…

Mayes arrived in San Francisco in 1960 at the age of 31 as a correspondent for the BBC. Handsome, energetic, cultivated, and rebellious, he took on a massive and highly preventable tragedy that no one else would discuss — suicide. In a city that was known for the highest suicide rate in the western world, he founded a simple volunteer hotline using the code name “Bruce” and distributing matchbooks with the phone number in Tenderloin bars. He had a newsman’s flair for publicity and was able to maintain constant visibility of the fledgling organization and its efforts to reach people who found themselves wanting to end their lives. He trained its first volunteers and went with them to secure the first office in the basement of a Tenderloin apartment building whose manager initially believed them to be an escort service.

By 1970, he was elected to chair the founding board of NPR, helping to organize public radio and television not only in San Francisco but also for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, then in its infancy. In 1984 he was invited by the University of Virginia to chair their Department of Rhetoric and Communication for which he organized the Program in Media Studies. Later, he was appointed an academic dean and received several awards for mentoring and advising.

He wrote many published articles and a selection of his lighter broadcast pieces,”This is Bernard Mayes in San Francisco,” even appeared in Australia. After his retirement in 1999, he published his autobiography, Escaping God’s Closet: The Revelations of a Queer Priest, which in 2000 won the national Lambda Literary Award for religion and spirituality. He has scripted and recorded dramatic works for radio, including Homer’s Odyssey and the award winning audio The Lord of the Rings, in which he played Gandalf.

Bernard never lost his concern for people considering suicide. For the final years of his life, he returned to San Francisco to live, consistently visiting to the agency he began fifty years earlier. He was a dedicated donor, leader, and historical legacy. Bernard celebrated his 85th birthday on October 10th at San Francisco Suicide Prevention’s “Heroes of Mental Health” Luncheon. He is survived by his many close friends, his former colleagues, and the unknown thousands of people who are alive today because of his work.

We are all better people having had Bernard Mayes in our lives. May he rest in peace.

To learn more about Bernard’s legacy, please enjoy the following articles:
Bernard Mayes to be Honored as Lifeline to Suicidal.
America’s First Suicide Prevention hotline celebrates 50 years.

This special edition of Beyond the Headlines commemorates the life of actor, comedian, and humanitarian Robin Williams – and explores the power of depression in his and all of our lives. Cheryl Jennings sits down with two of Robin’s longtime friends and fellow local comics, Brian Copeland and Bob Sarlatte. They’ll share their personal memories of Robin. And Brian will discuss his own personal continuing battle against Depression and we’ll provide a variety of local resources for you or anyone you know who’s battling this debilitating illness.

From ABC7 News.

A video of people who have been impacted by grief and loss and how The Crisis Center’s programs supported them.

The Contra Costa Crisis Center was chosen by the Dan & Margaret Lesher Foundation – as a part or their NEWSMAKERS: Lesher Speaker Series – as the nonprofit partner to be featured alongside Dan Rather on November 4, 2013.

Each year the Lesher Center for the Arts hosts the NEWSMAKERS: Lesher Speaker Series. This program is a seven-part speaker series that brings prominent figures in the fields of politics, entertainment, finance, media and sports to the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek each year. This subscription series is extremely well received by the public and the Lesher Foundation utilizes the interest and “buzz” created by some of these world renowned speakers to spotlight local nonprofit agencies and the work we do. This fall, the Contra Costa Crisis Center was one of seven nonprofits featured in the 2013-14 fall/winter series and the Crisis Center’s spotlight was linked to the speaking engagement of world renowned journalist, Dan Rather.

The Crisis Center was also provided tickets to attend Dan Rather’s performance AND a small reception on-site to personally meet Mr. Rather over wine and appetizers! The Crisis Center used these exclusive tickets as an expression of our appreciation with our top donors and a few Board members.

Additionally, this opportunity included the professional production of our agency’s “commercial” (digital clip) to air as the opening for Dan Rather’s performance. Our digital clip was done by KTVU Director of Publicity and Public Relations (Channel 2), Rosy Chu and the final product was gifted to us to use in our marketing efforts – all free of charge! We were thrilled to see the Crisis Center’s clip at the beginning of his performance and to have Mr. Rather mention us as one of the County’s premiere service providers, giving us exposure to more than 800 attendees. Look for this clip on our website soon.