Caring Contacts | Advances 2021

Caring Contacts


A Card in the Mail Can Show You Care

During the pandemic, many felt isolated and lonely. Others have felt the opposite with homes that are cramped with people, competing for space or internet bandwidth and have caused some of us to momentarily forget to check on those who may be feeling alone. An act of kindness, like writing a note, can serve as a way to touch base with someone - and can even save a life.

A Caring Contact is a written note or card expressing care. Mental health therapists use these cards as adjunct treatment for those who have increased risks related to mental illness. These notes are intended to help individuals feel a sense of connectedness and increase positive engagement.

Over the past year, the feeling of depression and anxiety has increased among youth and adults. The symptoms of these disorders can include feeling restless, easily fatigued, having difficulty concentrating, being irritable and feeling worried. A Caring Contact can help cheer someone up and offer support when they need it the most.

In the 1970s, Stanford University conducted a study that followed more than 800 people after they were discharged from the hospital for suicidal ideation or depression. One group of individuals received handwritten letters from a health-care provider, while the other group received no letters. Those receiving letters showed lower rates of suicide over the five-year period.

"Caring Contacts are incredibly effective in promoting a feeling of social connection especially during this time of social isolation. This simple intervention has been proven over the past 45 years as an effective tool to decrease suicidality," says Audrey Read Brown, clinical director. "Clients have expressed how much they have appreciated this added outreach of care during this challenging time." For those who have attempted suicide or are considering it, Read Brown states that they often cannot identify one person who cares about them. A handwritten note can counteract this feeling. A client recently expressed gratitude for sending them a Caring Contact. "It meant so much to me and I'm reminded that I'm not alone and that someone is thinking of me," the client shared. They went on to say that they carry the card in their purse as a reminder that they matter to someone.

Keep these tips in mind when writing a Caring Contact:

  • Let the recipient know that they are important to you. When someone's experiencing depression, they may feel the exact opposite.
  • Don't worry about finding the perfect words to write. Instead focus on authenticity, sincerity and compassion.
  • Consider drawing a picture or using stationary that is memorable. Our therapists use special cards that include images of hope that are often designed by clients.

Feelings of hopelessness or being trapped and the emotional pain of losing loved ones are just a few signs that someone may be thinking of taking their own life. Every 28 seconds someone attempts suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among children ages 10-14 and the second leading cause of death for those ages 15-34.

If you suspect that someone is suicidal, the first step is to reach out and ask. Ask if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. This may be difficult, but by asking the question and listening to the response you are starting an open and honest dialogue and creating a safe environment for them to share their feelings. Let them know that you care about them and encourage them to seek treatment from a qualified therapist or doctor.

If you feel like you are having thoughts of suicide or know someone who might be in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours seven days a week at 800-273-8255.