’13 Reasons Why’ you should be talking to your teen

On March 31st, Netflix released season 1 of “13 Reasons Why” and has recently announced season 2 is in the works.  The show, based on a book of the same title by Jay Asher, follows a series of teenagers confronted with the fallout of one of their schoolmate’s suicide. The series covers a range of topics including substance use, in-person and cyber bullying, mental health, sexual assault, driving while intoxicated, and ultimately, suicide. Many adults and school administrators may feel overwhelmed or at a loss with how to start a conversation with a young person about the show and its complex content.

Talking about suicide, does not cause suicide.

One of the biggest fears we hear from adults is that talking with youth about suicide and suicide prevention will “give someone the idea” to complete a suicide.  Research has shown time and time again, that talking about suicide does not “introduce” the idea to young people.  In fact, starting a conversation about suicide and other complex social topics raised in ’13 Reasons Why’ can actually bring relief to those who are wrestling with thoughts of suicide and bring the conversation and possible ways to address the underlying issues into the open.

While we believe that talking openly about the complex issue of suicide and suicide prevention, we must caution that the show is not intended for all audiences.  As indicated by its TV-MA rating, the content is intended for mature audiences.  We do encourage parents and caregivers to watch with their teens, and avoid binge watching to allow time for processing the heavy content.  Those who are vulnerable, or may be triggered by the content should practice good self-care and avoid watching altogether.

May is also Mental Health Month– another great reason to start a conversation and break down the stigma and shame that can prevent some individuals from getting help.  To learn more about how to start a conversation with a young person check out the links below.

To learn more about the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, click here.



Meeting Melissa today, you might never imagine the challenges she’s faced- two deployments to Iraq, traumatic brain injury, sexual trauma, self-doubt and plans of suicide. This vibrant, upbeat mother of three made it through some very dark times. She’ll be the first to say, that the things that happen to you do not define you. How you get through them makes the difference.

Her hardest lesson came from learning that healing is a journey that requires the strength of vulnerability and honesty, accepting support rather than bare-knuckled courage alone. During her time in Iraq, her Army unit was hit in a mortar attack and she and others were injured. The blast threw Melissa into the air, landing her on her head. She was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury disorder that required months of speech/language therapy to regain her full range of communication skills. It was during that period that Melissa suffered sexual trauma. “Life in Iraq has its own everyday stressors. Adding trauma on top of that makes it very difficult.”

As a young, single-mother, Melissa left her toddler in the care of her own mom, so Melissa could fulfill her military obligation in Iraq. Melissa stayed in close contact with both her mother and thanks to technology, a dear friend stateside. All of them, sharing stories of Melissa’s daughter’s growth, swapping photos and simply staying in touch, kept the connection strong. Melissa and her friend Skyped regularly, at the same time of each day, until the day Melissa refused to answer. Feeling hopeless and overwhelmed, Melissa made up her mind that this would be the day she would end her life. The Skype ringtone sounded and Melissa let it ring. “I remember, my friend continued to call me back. She just kept calling…Finally, I felt so annoyed by that Skype ringtone that I answered. She talked me through it – that day, and the many days that followed.”

Melissa is an Army vet, with 10 years of active duty and today holds a position as a dedicated public servant in our community. She is alive and well, available for her family because her friend wouldn’t stop calling, and never stopped listening.

Our crisis counselors are here providing help and hope 24/7 for 63,000 callers like Melissa each year. Your generous donation today supports our entire community all year long.

We answer every call and we never stop listening.

With gratitude,

Rhonda James, MA, LMFT

Executive Director

about-sids SUDS and SUID Awareness Month

October is national Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) awareness month.  Approximately 3,500 infants died unexpectedly in 2014 making SUID the leading cause of death for infants under one year of age. The stories may be different, the acronyms used may be different, but the end result is a devastating loss.

We have learned a lot about safe sleep practices, environmental risk factors, and protective factors that seem to help reduce the rates of SIDS over the last 30 years. But there are many things that we still don’t know and significant research being conducted in the areas of neurobiology and serotonin levels in the brain.

A quiet grief

“Why? I just want to know why my baby died.” is the most common first response we hear from SIDS parents and caregivers who reach out to the Crisis Center for support. Shock, confusion, denial, anger, guilt, depression, physical pain- the long list of grief responses all apply to parents facing SIDS or SUID crisis. pexels-photo-69096

It takes meaningful support to resolve parental grief and it can take time and emotional space to even consider the question of having another child, to open up to a subsequent potential loss.


The support necessary to help families put their lives back together comes from family, from friends, from medical professionals, but also comes from organizations like the Crisis Center.  We offer free and confidential 24/7 grief telephone support and counseling for our local community and provide all after-hours call support for the California Department of Public Health’s SIDS Program.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a SIDS or SUID experience, regardless of when the loss occurred, you can call us.  If you or someone you care about needs information about what a SIDS/SUID parent might be experiencing or how to support a grieving parent or caregiver, click here.

Does talking about thoughts of suicide increase the risk that someone will act on those thoughts?

We know that most people who die by suicide SAY they are having thoughts of suicide before they attempt suicide.  And, as the 10th leading cause of adult death and the 2nd leading cause of youth death in the U.S. we have to talk about suicide. 

None of the 13 studies reviewed in a recent article published in Psychological Medicine found that talking about suicide increased suicide ideation.  In fact many of these 13 studies found that asking the questions improved mental health in individuals who sought treatment.

Start a conversation and help stop suicide.

The Movember Foundation shared a video about the power of talking about suicide as part of their efforts to raise awareness during World Suicide Prevention Day.


Toni McShane, Interim-Principal, Lafayette Elementary School


Toni McShane has devoted her life to education. She spent 26 years in the Lafayette School District, and retired two years ago.  She was enticed out of retirement by the offer to serve as Interim Principal at Lafayette Elementary School.  This came at a time when one family and the entire school community faced the impending loss of a beloved student, because of a health crisis.  Reaching out to the experts seemed the wisest choice, so when the question was raised as to who might help, the school psychologist recommended the Contra Costa Crisis Center.


Toni said, “Their response was immediate and helpful.  What surprised me was the depth of caring and compassion we received from the very beginning. We started with the adults, the teachers, counselors, and administrative staff, so we’d be better prepared to help the children.  We learned first, how to support ourselves and each other.  We were, after all, dealing with our own feelings of impending loss.  Then the Crisis Center staff provided us with tools – helpful scripts – that would give the children the opportunity to talk about their feelings.  After that session, they backed-off to give us the time to process things, but they told us they would be available any time we needed them.”


When that time came, the Crisis Center was there, the very morning our student passed. Toni continued, “Our teachers had more courage and the skills they needed to help the children cope.  I wish more people realized that when you are going through a deep loss, people who truly understand or have been through tragedy can help.  They may be strangers, but they are so compassionate, an intimacy develops very quickly.  And they don’t tell you what to do or how to feel.  They listen and provide tools to help you get through it.”


Toni added, “I feel fortunate we have a resource like the Contra Costa Crisis Center. If I knew of a similar situation at another school, I’d say – ‘Don’t hesitate to call them to get the tools you need’ – It’s is like the preparation we devote to fire drills. You want to be prepared: you learn to take care of yourself and others.  I’ve spent a total of 42 years in education so I know how to connect – but what I saw with the Crisis Center team moved me to tears – how they worked with the children and connected with them so effortlessly.  That ream became the wind beneath our wings, to get us through.”
Website photo

Joseph & Zeus

Joseph Fuentes discovered the Contra Costa Crisis Center as part of his career exploration.  He wanted to gain a better understating of what it would be like to counsel people, to help them work through issues.


“I’ve led a privileged life and learning about the difficulties people face has been very eye-opening.  Even more so now, than the five years I spent in the Navy, where I grew up and learned so much.”


Joseph found that many of the calls he answers on the crisis line or the 211 line are from people who are struggling everyday, facing hard decisions about the basics, like food and shelter.  When the struggles seem overwhelming or they face an emotional crisis, some talk of suicide.  “I guess what surprised me the most is the sheer number of people who need help, who are struggling, including veterans.  So many callers don’t have the ability to take care of themselves or their families.”


Then he shared what his own transition as a Call Specialist felt like.  “I was raised in the Mexican tradition, ‘Don’t broadcast your troubles, men have to be strong – you know, machismo.’  To hear all these different stories of struggle changed me.  I can tell you, I never expected a guy like me to get so emotionally involved in the stories of other people.  I’ve learned that strength is more than just muscle strength or stoicism.  It is compassion, empathy and understanding.”


“I wish everyone knew about the Contra Costa Crisis Center and knew more about mental health and how important it is to health in general.  Every moment in life has a story and I think the world would be a better place if everyone tried to have an open mind and an open heart.  To anyone wondering about volunteering I’d say – absolutely, do it.  Life is about gaining wisdom – this work will open your eyes.”

The Contra Costa Crisis Center is celebrating 50 years of service!

With very humble beginnings in 1963, we opened our doors and connected our telephone lines alongside pioneering crisis centers across the nation. Important social changes were emerging in this country in 1963 – growing public dissatisfaction with the quality and capacity of existing mental health care services; new federal policies calling for release back into the community, of (previously) institutionalized mental health care consumers; the touchtone telephone was developed as it became more affordable and offered a new level of user anonymity. Finally, a very important change occurred in California in 1963 – suicide began to be formally recognized as a health issue – no longer considered breaking a law.

In 1963 the United States and Russia were in a heated race to the moon, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were blowing up the charts, zip codes were introduced for the first time, The Outer Limits was premiered on black and white television and six-year-old Donny Osmond appeared for the first time on the Andy Williams Show. Then governor of Alabama, George Wallace, was aggressively promoting segregation, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial and President John F. Kennedy made history by legislating equal pay for women. 1963 was also the year President Kennedy was assassinated.

In 1963 the Crisis Center was launched by the Contra Costa County Mental Health Association and called Troubled Teens & Twenties & Suicide Prevention. A handful of mental health professionals, nurses, and Clipped Wings, a group of former airline hostesses, volunteered to answer afterhours telephone calls from depressed and suicidal individuals living in Contra Costa County. Dr. Donald Fisher served as the first president of the organization and personally paid the telephone bills. The first program income was a personal donation by the director of the Mental Health Association for the sum of $197.50.

In 1963, Crisis Center calls were mechanically relayed to the homes of volunteers after-hours and on weekends in order to provide 24-hour coverage and our annual call total was 139.

During these 50 years of continuous crisis response, the Crisis Center has grown in size and deepened in capacity. We have always maintained our community outreach and prevention services, developed a large grief and bereavement-counseling program and operated it with trained volunteers and interns for the last 40 years. And eight years ago, we launched a robust 211 Information & Referral service assisting Contra Costa County residents in need of access to vital social services. In the past year the Crisis Center added on-line crisis chat support and became one of six call centers nationwide responding to not only its local veteran calls, but to more than 6000 overflow crisis veteran calls routed from the National Veteran’s Administration.

Today the Crisis Center’s annual call volume is greater than 70,000 with 23 local and national telephone lines directed to our call center around the clock. We serve more than 1000 bereaved adults and children on average each year and are offering grief support groups in all three regions of the county. We have a robust volunteer program that magnifies our capacity to serve. We have initiated an endowment and are 26 months from retiring our mortgage – strengthening our roots in the community and ensuring crisis response and grief support remain available for all who need them.

Thank You

The Crisis Center is grateful to report the following support in the past quarter:
Kaiser Permanente $5,000; Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation $25,000; PG&E Foundation $20,000; Bank of the West $5,000; Thomas J. Long Foundation $25,000; John Muir Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund $11,300; Crescent Porter Hale $25,000; Chevron Corporation $25,000, McKesson Foundation $25,000

Welcome New Members, Board of Trustees

Bonnie Glatzen, Attorney at Law, Partner, Nixon Peabody
Michael Rekasis, Finance Industry Professional, Retired
Francesca Delgado, Board Fellow, UC Berkeley
Peri Weisberg, Board Fellow, UC Berkeley

Golden Anniversary Gala – November 2, 2013

The Contra Costa Crisis Center’s 50th Golden Anniversary Year Gala will be held at the Diablo Country Club on November 2, 2013. We have an exciting and fun-filled evening planned and we hope you will join us. For further information please RSVP online or contact Rocio Polanco at rociop@crisis-center.org or 925-939-1916 X100.


The Board of Trustees is looking for new leadership volunteers – members of the community who would like to serve as members of the Contra Costa Crisis Center’s Board of Trustees.

Because the Crisis Center is a non-profit agency, it exists solely to serve the residents of Contra Costa County. It is a vital component of the community’s overall safety net and the Board of Trustees’ role is to ensure that the agency remain strong and available for generations to come. The Board’s primary duty is governance; confirming that legal and fiduciary standards are kept. If you are interested in being considered for a Board position, please contact Rhonda James, Executive Director, 925-939-1916 X107 or rhondaj@crisis-center.org.