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Sally Spencer-Thomas

Sally Spencer-Thomas

Sally Spencer-Thomas is a clinical psychologist, inspirational international speaker and impact entrepreneur. Dr. Spencer-Thomas was moved to work in suicide prevention after her younger brother, a Denver entrepreneur, died of suicide after a dbattle with bipolar condition. Known nationally and internationally as an innovator in social change, Spencer-Thomas has helped start multiple large-scale, gap-filling efforts in mental health, including the award-winning campaign Man Therapy and the nation’s first initiative for suicide prevention in the workplace, Working Minds.

She is best known for her work in championing a “Zero Suicide Mindset” in industry. Over the last few years she has keynoted at the Australian MATES in Construction’s Annual Mental Health Conference, presented on behalf of and advised CFMA’s Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and facilitated national and regional presentations for the SMART/SMACNA Member Assistance Program, among many other industry engagements. In 2016 she gratefully accepted IRMI’s Horizon Award on behalf of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force, which she chairs.

Spencer-Thomas has also held leadership positions for the International Association for Suicide Prevention, the American Association for Suicidology and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. She has won multiple awards for her advocacy, including the 2014 Survivor of the Year from the American Association of Suicidology, the 2014 Invisible Disabilities Association Impact Honors Award, the 2012 Alumni Master Scholar from the University of Denver, the 2015 Farbarow Award from the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the 2016 Career Achievement Alumni Award from the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology.

In 2016 she was an invited speaker at the White House, where she presented on men’s mental health. In her recent TEDx Talk she shares her goal to elevate the conversation to make mental health promotion and suicide prevention a health and safety priority in our schools, workplaces and communities.

She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Denver, masters in nonprofit management from Regis University and a bachelors in psychology and studio art with a minor in economics from Bowdoin College. She has written four books on mental health and violence prevention.

Recent Articles by Sally Spencer-Thomas

The Long Haul for Mental Health at Work

As we approach 2021, we are still adjusting to the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting just about every aspect of our lives. Many are asking — How has COVID-19 affected workplace wellbeing? Are we facing a “perfect storm” of risk factors for suicide, or are there aspects of this crisis that give us […]

New Guidelines for Preventing Suicides

The American Association of Suicidology (AAS), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and United Suicide Survivors International (United Survivors), announced their collaboration and release of the first National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention on World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10, 2019). The guidelines — built by listening to the expertise of diverse groups like HR, […]

Workplaces Coping With Suicide Trauma

“The workplace is the last crucible of sustained human contact for many of the 30,000 people who kill themselves each year in the United States. A co-worker’s suicide has a deep, disturbing impact on work mates. For managers, such tragedies pose challenges no one covered in management school.”  ~Sue Shellenbarger (2001), Impact of Colleague’s Suicide […]

15 Keys to Mental Health Safety Net

Acknowledgment: Thank you, Dr. Jodi Frey and Jon Kinning, for assisting in the preparation of this article. 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 so that support services for personal and […]

What if They Say ‘Yes’ to Suicide Question?

What if you ask someone if they are thinking about suicide, and they say, “yes”? What do you say? Here are four responses that can make a difference. 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 […]

15 Top Apps for Mental Health

For many people, apps are a part of our everyday living – from Uber, to conference schedules, to how we find our restaurants. They can also be part of our resilience toolkit. When we consider a comprehensive strategy to suicide prevention and mental health promotion, it’s helpful to segment approaches into “upstream” (preventing problems before […]

How to Help Veterans on Mental Health

Employers need to re-evaluate their relationship with the military and the profound disconnect that exists between the lip service of “Thank you for your service” and the tangible, material benefits we give to our armed forces and veterans. The reception and perception that veterans often receive by the civilian population is in need of a […]

Social Media and Suicide Prevention

In 2017, a 15-year-old girl from Bedford, PA, was trying to live an ordinary teenage life until her classmates began bullying her. They attacked her on social media sites like Facebook and Kik about her red hair and braces, some going as far as telling her that she should kill herself. Her mother remembers finding […]

Top 10 Ways to Nurture Mental Health

May is Mental Health Month! Across the world, many companies are highlighting mental wellness, mental health condition awareness and recovery. Over the past 25 years, I have been helping organizations create effective mental health campaigns, and here are 10 tips I’ve learned and resources I’ve discovered to help your mental health awareness campaigns be most […]

Deaths of Despair: Employers Can Help

Recent headlines report an upward trend in “deaths of despair” among middle-aged, white (non-Hispanic) men, most with less than a college education. For the past 100 years, life expectancy has been increasing, but, among this group, that trend suddenly went into reverse. The explanation that Princeton University economists give includes an increase in suicide, overdoses (mostly […]

New Approach to Mental Health

In recent years, thought leaders in business, government and risk management have developed a sophisticated understanding of the bottom-line impacts of untreated mental illness in the workplace. For example, mental health and brain science dominated the agenda at the Davos World Economic Forum in 2015. And the National Business Group on Health held its first […]

How to Handle the Winter Blues

For some, winter is a time of celebration – the holidays, winter sports, beautiful snowy landscapes and a reason to drink hot chocolate. For others, the shortened days bring on something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For people who experience SAD, otherwise known as the “Winter Blues,” they find their symptoms of mild depression start […]

When Workplace Safety Is Core…

In a true Culture of Safety, safety always wins. It is the first among equals; it is the card that beats all others. In short, Safety is a Core Value of the organization. Safety and other Core Values are: Continuously communicated. Lived by leaders in their words and behaviors. Formally and informally reinforced, recognized and […]

Blueprint for Suicide Prevention

On Sept. 3, 2015, a press release was issued by the Carson J Spencer Foundation; RK, a construction company in Denver; and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. This press release was timed to coincide with Suicide Prevention Month in September and World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10 . This press release announced […]

Language and Mental Health (Part 3)

[The other three parts of this series can be found here and here.] “Power is the ability to define reality and to have other people respond to your definition as if it were their own.” – Wade Nobles “Words are powerful. Old and inaccurate descriptors, and the inappropriate use of these descriptors, perpetuate negative stereotypes and reinforce […]

Language and Mental Health (Part 2)

[Part 1 of this series focused on why language matters in mental health advocacy and on suicide prevention in the workplace. This article explores wording related to suicide that we want to see change. Part 3 will look at wording related to mental health.] We are often asked: What is the best way to talk about […]

Language and Mental Health

“Commit suicide,” “successful suicide,” “the mentally ill,” “suffering from a mental illness” —These phrases rattle off the tongue, yet we, as social justice advocates, find they rattle our souls as people continue to use them in well-meaning workplace education programs and community discussions. Let us explain… In 1984, George Orwell said, “If thought corrupts language, […]

How to Help Veterans on Mental Health

The constant beat of the major media drum often paints a grim picture of veterans and suicide. Sometimes, we wonder if these messages become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Consistent headlines include data such as: Approximately 22 veterans die by suicide each day (about one every 65 minutes). In 2012, suicide deaths outpaced combat deaths, with 349 […]

6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicides

This year, for World Suicide Prevention Day, the theme is “Reaching Out to Save Lives” – a message all employers can use to let people know that everyone can play a role in suicide prevention. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force members and the organizations they serve offer the top six […]

A Call to Action on Mental Health

The 6th US/Canada Forum on Workplace, Mental Health and Productivity, held in Denver, produced a call to action on how employers can make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. Almost 70 CEOs and community influencers participated in the five-hour forum, including senior representatives from RK Mechanical, the U.S. Postal Service, Wells Fargo, Bank of […]

Stand Up for Robin Williams. . .

On Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, we lost Robin Williams. He was a brilliant actor and comic…a man most of us grew up with. We knew him as a funny guy, an alien, a genie, a nanny, an inspirational teacher and so much more. We also knew he struggled with depression, addiction and possibly bipolar disorder. […]

Preventing Suicide in Working-Age Men

Around the world, men of working age carry the burden of suicide. In the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death for men ages 25-54. Men take their own lives at four times the rate of women. Because just about all of these men are working, were recently working or have family members […]

How to Be Visionary on Mental Health

Once upon a time, there was a national leader who said, “To remain as I am is impossible. I must die, or get better.” Fearing that he might take his life by suicide, his friends confiscated his knives, guns, and razors — anything he could use to harm himself. This leader? None other than Abraham Lincoln. […]

Five Things Employers Need to Know About Mental Health

“The workplace is the last crucible of sustained human contact for many of the 30,000 people who kill themselves each year in the United States. A coworker’s suicide has a deep, disturbing impact on work mates. For managers, such tragedies pose challenges no one covered in management school.” (Shellenbarger, 2001)1 Five things employers need to […]

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