Standing in the gap (1)

Dear President Trump,

In the last two weeks or so the HP has published several long pieces that all focus on different rips in collective care taking and ways that people are trying to stand in these gaps. The one I’m going to focus on today is about an old way of addressing suicidality that’s gaining new attention because it actually helps.

As a World War II veteran, Jerome Motto, received regular letters from an acquaintance during the war that kept his spirits up and helped him feel connected. When he was later working as a psychiatrist he reasoned that caring letters like these might serve as a lifeline or an antidote to despair and disconnection for people who were hospitalized after having attempted suicide. In the late 1960’s he and his team started sending short letters that didn’t include any directions to do anything (i.e., no “you’d feel better if you did X”). The letters simply expressed care and gave the opportunity to let the team know how they were doing by checking a box (“doing ok,” “doing fair,” or “not doing ok”) and returning the letter in the unstamped enclosed envelope (the idea being that having the people go to some effort to get a stamp to mail the letters was important). The HP piece recounts this history and the research Motto and his team did (they randomized patients to get or not get the series of letters) and how people here at the University of Washington have taken up the effort.

Two days after I read the HP article, serendipitously one of our researchers at the VA gave a great talk about a huge new VA grant he’s undertaking with support from VFW members to evaluate Vet-to-Vet caring letters. I know some veterans will find it annoying or will be suspicious, but I think overall it will be a wonderful thing for the VFW vets who write to their person (I don’t remember how confidentiality is going to be handled, but they have that figured out), for the vets who receive the letters, for the researchers who are facilitating this whole enterprise, and for Dr. Motto’s legacy because how cool that he was a veteran and the VA is taking up his life’s work in such a meaningful way. You really ought to pay attention to the great things the VA is doing!

May we all have safety nets for when we are at the ends of our ropes.
May we all be happy to reach out and let someone know they matter.
May we all strive to see past our differences to our common need to belong.
May we all make peace with the reality of pain and do what we can to alleviate suffering.

Tracy Simpson

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