Meeting Carson is my earliest memory. Since he was born Christmas Eve, he came home to us shortly after, and I thought he was my Christmas present. I was so excited to have a little brother, and as we grew up, our bond of sibling friendship became my most cherished relationship. Throughout our youth and young adulthood, we were each other’s biggest cheerleaders and confidants. He could always make me laugh and would always be able to help me put my troubles into perspective.
When his bipolar illness escalated in 2004, I found myself struggling with how best to help him. On the last time I saw him, I tried to instill hope by saying, “Carson we will get through this,” to which he replied, “but Sally…it’s madness.” And less than a week later on December 7th, 2004, he took his life. Now, of course I am not certain what he was trying to tell me, but I have a pretty good idea.
Carson was a very determined man who found his way through all types of challenges in his life, and I believe that he would’ve found his way to the other side of his unbearable psychological pain, if he knew that when he got there he wouldn’t have to deal with the burden of the misperceptions and discrimination others have about mental illness. In other words, I think the stigma of his illness killed him more than the illness itself.
And that makes me so mad. I believe if he had seen other high profile, high performing men who had been “out” with their emotional challenges and were now thriving, he would’ve had hope that he could get there too. That he wasn’t alone. So this has become my mission and my way of honoring him: to get upstream from the crisis of suicide and prevent mental health
challenges from escalating to the point of becoming life threatening, and to let people know that they are not alone, that dignity is essential in the healing process, and that recovery is possible.
By January of 2005, Carson’s closest friends and our family started to gather to explore what we could do to make a difference and a legacy. From the outset, the founders of the Carson J Spencer Foundation we would do two things to honor my brother – we would take bold innovative approaches to prevent what happened to him from happening to other people, and we would celebrate the life that was lived by promoting entrepreneurship and business leadership in our efforts.
- Sally Spencer-Thomas
Carson’s sister and Cofounder and CEO, Carson J Spencer Foundation