Why “The Tomorrow Project”



The Backstory


Every single day, 11 youth, ages 10-19, commit suicide. [1]


Reflect on that for a minute.


And, for every completed suicide, it is estimated there are between 50 and 200 attempts. [2]


These numbers are numbing.


But, it was a November 2011 study , published in the Journal of Adolescent Health that was the tipping point.  New research suggests that nearly 40% of youth who tried suicide, made their first attempt before entering high school.


I have been in mental health more than 20 years.  I have learned alot about this issue.  Reading this shocked me.  That was then followed with a visceral reaction, a jump up from the chair, “Enough.  Whatever it takes to end this.”


Thus, The Tomorrow Project .  A national movement to end  youth suicide.




Because there is always a reason to live, today .  And, give youth hope to see tomorrow .


Because youth suicide is a crisis of historic and generational consequence.  One that threatens the future of 2.09 million youth each year.  To achieve fully.  To live their best life.


There’s more.


There’s the “ripple effect” to a suicide.  “A suicide death is like a pebble in a pond .  The waves ripple outward.”  When a 15 year-old ends  her life, other lives are changed.  Forever.  The lives of family and friends.  Research suggests that, for every suicide, at least six people are intimately and profoundly affected, immediately.  This is the first wave .


Then there is the next wave .  Classmates, teachers, service providers, emergency medical personnel who responded, the broader community.  What do we do about this?  We either disconnect and watch the ripples.  Or, we get inspired.


Let’s act now.


Today.  Right now.  This is not unsolvable.  Here’s one place to start.  Implementing mental health screening and suicide prevention programs in schools.  It is estimated that fewer than 20% of the nation’s 100,000 elementary and secondary schools have implemented these guidelines.  This, despite countless reports, white papers, court cases and please from influential national school and advocacy groups.


Why are these programs not in 100% of our schools?


I am not saying it is easy.  I am saying it is not impossible.  Don’t tell Muhammad Ali something was impossible.  On what is perhaps the best, there-is-no-such-thing-as-impossible message, here is what he said,


“Impossible is just a big word …….Impossible is not a fact.  It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration.  It’s a dare.  Impossible is potential.  Impossible is temporary.  Impossible is nothing.”


Our “land-on-the-moon” goal.


By 2020, we will reduce the youth suicide rate by 75%.


There, I said it!


We can choose to believe.


Or, not.  I choose to believe that nothing is impossible.  I choose to believe in the extraordinary transformative power of the human spirit.  It is when that spirit is unleashed, then channeled into action, that impossible becomes possible .  


And, there is no shortage of human spirit.  From the most socially-conscious generation of youth and young adults in our nation’s history, to legacy-minded philanthropists, and everyone in between ……….combined with the communication and social-media technologies we now have available to tell our story, any movement can be launched with access to a global audience.


Yet one more reason to shutter the word “impossible”.


Will you join us?


Admittedly, at this moment, this is such a nascent project.  I personally debated for months the launch process.  There were two choices.  To plan extensively, then launch.  Or, to launch, then, plan extensively.


The 2011 study mentioned earlier made the decision easier.  That, and knowing that every day we waited, 11 more youth ended their life.  11 more “ripple effect” waves.  So, we’re launching now, and planning as we go along.


We’re hoping we’ll have many friends, from around the world, who will help plan this project with us.  Help us imagine its future.  And, while we’re in unchartered territory, and we do not have many of the answers, yet , we believe we are at the intersection of a tetonic shift where the stigma of mental illness ends, and unprecedented and unparalleled commitment to see mental illness as a treatable disease, not a shameful character flaw, begins.


Treatable disease .  Two words that can shift the paradigm of attitudes and behavior.  The problem and challenge: there is a public perception that mental illness is not a treatable disease.  This is a choice society makes.  One reason is we fear the illness.  The other is the stigma we attach to it.  Both reactions are wrong and they contribute to youth suicides.


Why?   Because both are serious impediments to treatment.  The research documents this.  And, the same research also tells us that treatment is an effective solution to suicide prevention.  To reducing the suicide numbers.


It starts with you.


Will you join “The Tomorrow Project” ?  Every “you” who says, “I’m in” , gives hope to that 14 year-old to say, “I want to live today to see tomorrow” .  Which then makes the 2020 vision palpable.  It takes each of us to make a difference for all of us.


As we grow in numbers, our collective voice will amplify our influence in the areas of policy, legislation, advocacy, research, and investment.  That’s just the beginning.


We want to change history for this generation.  Leave something new for the generation behind it.  Something that is the result of an openly declared and frighteningly ambitious goal.  A goal so big and intimidating, so daunting, it may scare away most people.


That’s okay, because here is what I know.  From experience.  From history.  From stories.  Any goal worth fighting for, any lofty, impossible-to-imagine dream, will attract more support than opposition.  More believers than naysayers.  More who act than those who stay on the sidelines.  That’s what I am counting on.


A sense of empathy.


I hope you can feel it.  I hope you can relate to this cause.  To end youth suicide.  In some ways, really, I think we all can, or should.  Are we not all trustees of our children?  Our own?  Our neighbor’s?  Our co-workers?  I know for many of you, this is very personal.  You’ve experienced the loss of a child to suicide.  And, if it’s not (personal), I know there are many more of you that are very close to it.  You likely know someone who has (experienced this loss).  The degree of separation is small.  We’re more connected than we realize.


Or, maybe we do, but we choose not to acknowledge it.  These are perceptions.  We can change them.  We must in order to act.


I will close with a call-to- ACT ion.  But, first, I will (again) openly declare our ambitious goal:


By 2020, we will reduce the youth suicide rate by 75%.


The call-to-action is a reference to a Robert F. Kennedy quote, something he said in the 1960’s to inspire youth service.  Words that resonate as powerfully today as they did then:


“Every generation inherits a world it never made, and as it does so, it automatically becomes a trustee for those who follow”.


I hope these are words that inspire you from inside your soul .  I hope these are words that rally your heart to act .  They have mine.


Thank you!



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