Pocket positivity: Jeff Holland and his Coping Cards.
When Jeff Holland’s aunt committed suicide around a year ago, it came as a shock. “She lived in Kansas City,” he recalls over coffee at the Leucadia Pannikin, “and she had been the primary caretaker for my grandparents, who had passed away a couple of years ago. After they died, she would call us for long conversations about kind of obscure things, but it never occurred to us that anything drastic was going on. She was by herself, but we would talk every so often and see her at Christmas.” When he flew east to help clean out her house, “there were an enormous number of yellow sticky notes all over the place — on the mirror in the bathroom, or inside a kitchen cupboard — with positive affirmations on them. Things like, ‘You can make it’ and ‘You can get through it.’ She was obviously struggling, but had never reached out to any of us. We had a family that didn’t really talk about problems. It really opened my eyes.”
It also helped inspire Holland to create a deck of Coping Cards: a physical set of affirmations, motivations, and suggested activities “to help people get through in the moment.” Things like “Focus on things you have control over,” “Change the channel in your brain,” and “Start a journal.” He sees the cards as a concrete, exterior mental health tool, “a vetted supplement to a well thought-out treatment plan.” He stresses this last part, lest anyone treat them as a substitute for professional help. “Obviously, the way my aunt was trying to do it didn’t work.”
“The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”
In developing the cards, he got some professional help of his own. “My wife is a marriage and family therapist, and when I brought this up to her, we had some of her friends over” — fellow mental health workers. “Every one of them wished they had the cards in their office to give to people. Anxiety is a common thread among most of the patients my wife sees. A lot of [their troubles] stem from anxiety and being inside your head with your own negative thoughts. Part of what these cards are is something to help shake them out of that headspace.”
The group set to work. “I think it was important to my wife and the rest of them that this sounded like it was coming from one voice, as opposed to things grabbed haphazardly from all over. At her work, it’s ‘Here’s a book,’ ‘Here’s a brochure,’ ‘Here’s some print-outs,’ ‘Here’s a website.’ This condenses the discussions with this forum of licensed therapists into one cohesive package.”
A Kickstarter campaign easily raised the $3500 needed for an initial print run. (Just now, it stands at $4600; contributors like the idea of getting packs of their own to use or give as gifts.) Now he’s ready to let the therapy community have a look and weigh in. “We’re trying to work with suicide prevention organizations, and possibly, PTSD.”