Friday, February 24, 2012

2/24/12: Spencer Watson Seupel Obituary

In lieu of my weekly blog, I encourage you to read the obituary of Spencer Watson Seupel, who took his own life on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012


Spencer Watson Seupel HIGH FALLS- The Details: My beautiful son, Spencer Watson Seupel, of High Falls, New York, took his own life in his fraternity room at Penn State, State College, Pa. early in the morning of Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. He was 21 years old. Spencer is survived by his brother, Taylor, his mother Celia, his father Herbert, and his grandmother, Genie Watson. Spencer's funeral will be held at Copeland Funeral Home, Inc., 162 South Putt Corners Road, New Paltz, N.Y. 12561 on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. Friends and relatives may visit at the funeral home from 2 to 4 p.m.; a Celebration of Life Service will begin there at 4 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Spencer's name to, an organization founded by my in-laws to help prevent teen suicide. The Story: Spencer loved to be always moving. As a baby, he could be held close only in sleep. As soon as he could stand, he was jumping. As soon as he could walk, he was running. Once, when we were in New York City's Central Park, we came upon a ring of people listening to the haunting Peruvian flutes. Spencer, who was two, ran into the empty space and began to dance. He turned round and round, he jumped, he rolled on the ground and came up waving his arms. Spencer loved to dance and later even studied dance in New Paltz. But he gave up dance for baseball, the more manly sport. Later it was lacrosse and football. Spencer, like all boys in our society, began looking for ways to be a man - as if being himself were not enough. I remember the rage and frustration he felt in Little League when he struck out; the unbearable self-hatred. My unending gratitude to Frank Coddington, a coach who saw something special in Spencer and helped Spencer develop what he could be good at - his speed. Spencer was always fast. It seems early on Spencer felt he was not good enough. I don't know why, but I do know it is something many young people feel today. How much teen and youth suicide do we have to endure? In 2007, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. There is despair among the young of our society that springs from a misapprehension of what it means to be human. Every human needs to feel special, to feel that he or she belongs as a valued member, to feel appreciated and honored by others. But so many of us don't. In our huge anonymous schools and conformist youth culture, in our adult world of fame and wealth, social climbing and cool, competition and winning seem to be the only means of finding what we need. We have lost our way. Love and tolerance is the way - the antithesis of teenage culture. As adults, we preach love and tolerance at school, then fail to lead by example. In business, in sports, in entertainment, in personal relationships and in the media ... how often do adults place people before profit, a helping hand before blame, caring ahead of winning, others ahead of self? Spencer's true nature was one of extreme sensitivity. He was easily and deeply wounded; he cried when others were cruel. When Spencer was in sixth grade, he told me he thought he should see a doctor because at times, "water" came out of his eyes. Of course, he was not crying; that was not manly. But Spencer was very smart, resourceful, ambitious and determined. As he grew, he built a new and tougher personality: a personality of cool, of fun, of hard work and goals. He built stubborn walls to protect that fragile self. He constructed a defensive, brittle confidence. He made friends; he gave parties; he got drunk; he achieved Eagle Scout; he drove fast. What Spencer really wanted, more than anything else, was closeness. He wanted to be a doctor so he could help others; he was an EMT. How ironic; how typical: His own walls and drive to be the best kept him apart from the closeness he craved. Ever determined, he worked hard on understanding what he was doing wrong, how he could be a better person, a better friend. And I think he was really beginning to get it. Drinking sabotaged all that: seductive, deadly alcohol. The drug that brings down the walls and helps us feel close - as long as we're drunk. The drug that circles back and rakes out your heart. The afternoon before Spencer died, he called me between classes. He was thrilled and excited about a lecture he'd just heard about nanotechnology and medicine. "This is the future," he said. "This is what's going to pull our country out of recession." Spencer had just won an internship for the summer. He was planning on applying to a med school that emphasized the special relationship between doctor and patient. He was excited about his future. That night, Spencer got very, very drunk. Binge drinking at college has been a regular thing since freshman year. Why didn't he get the proper help? Thursday night was one of those binge nights at the frat. He had a fight with his best friend. He said he was going to kill himself. He locked his door and did it. He did not leave a note. He did not look for help. Alcohol brought down those prefabricated walls, and all that was left was thoughtless pain. It was stupid and impulsive and he would not have done this thing if he had not been drunk. Spencer had plans and goals and family that loved him. He knew this. We talked about it -Spencer said he would never do such a thing. But he did. Because of alcohol. The drunken impulse in a moment of despair that can never be taken back. Kids drink this way because they need to escape their own false personalities. They strive to be the best, to be cool, to be popular and successful. Underneath, it's all about the same old human needs: to feel valued, to feel important and special, to belong, to be loved. Lectures and platitudes to the young will never change their society. We must all be the agents of change. Our society, as it gets bigger and more global, must evolve just as our species has evolved. Each of us, at work in the office, at home, in the post office, at the grocery store and in the government, must honor and value each person we encounter. How would your day be if, instead of trying to be right, you were trying to help? In the media, we must pay homage to the ordinary hero: not the superstar, but the man who goes to work and loves his kids, the person of integrity who has the courage of his convictions. The culture of children in huge schools should not be left to run amok with misguided values, churning out young men and women who believe that social status is the measure of their worth. It is more than destructive; it is brutal, a de-evolution of humanity. Now Spencer, finally, is at rest, and I hold him close within me. Please hold him close, as I do, in your mind and your spirit. Remember the meaning of this tragedy. If a young man or woman says maybe I'll kill myself, tell someone. Don't leave him alone. If a young man or woman drinks too much, say something. It's not a game; it's a symptom. And let us find and encourage within ourselves, within our society, those gifts that make each of us special: not star power, not intellectual prowess, but the ineffable mystery and extraordinary beauty of the simple human heart.

Published in The Daily Freeman on February 19, 2012

Friday, February 17, 2012

2/17/12: Whitney Houston' Death

 Whitney Houston’s Death Provides an Opportunity to Talk to Youth

Youth today are so connected through Facebook and Twitter that word travels quite quickly in their world.  My 18 year old daughter, Liz, informed me of the death of Whitney Houston as soon as the news was released to the press. We speculated that cocaine may have played a role in her death, but at the time of this writing speculation is that she died from a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs.

Unfortunately, our sons and daughters are becoming accustomed to drug and alcohol overdose deaths.  As we talked, she mentioned Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. 

For my generation, celebrity deaths were more often tied to illicit drugs, especially heroin. John Belushi, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison come to mind. For me, these deaths were a cautionary tale against a lifestyle much removed from my personal experiences.
For Liz and her peers, however, overdose deaths are more likely to be attributed to prescription drugs, particularly when substances are mixed together or mixed with alcohol, and often strike much closer to home.

Such tragedies provide prime opportunities to talk with teens and young adults about alcohol and drugs.  Ask open ended questions such as “What do you think about that?” One in three teens surveyed say there is “nothing wrong” with abusing prescription drugs “every once in a while”.  Talk to your teen about the dangers of abusing alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drugs. These are powerful drugs that, when abused, can be just as dangerous as street drugs.

Make sure that teens know that they can come to you as a trusted adult if they need help or know someone who needs help. Keep the lines of communication open, and use the news to start meaningful conversations.

Friday, February 10, 2012

2/10/12: Community Coalitions Work!

Community Coalitions Work!
I had the privilege of spending this week in National Harbor, Maryland at the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) Conference.  The message this week has consistently been that community coalitions are effective in reducing local substance use rates among youth and in creating safer and healthier communities. Alcohol and drug problems manifest in local communities and show up in our schools, churches, health centers, and in our homes.  Coalition work helps local leaders and community partners organize to identify the youth drug issues unique to their communities and develop the infrastructures necessary to effectively prevent and respond to the these issues to target the prevention needs of youth, their families, and surrounding communities.
The Drug Free Communities Support Program (DFC) is a Federal grant program that provides funding to community-based coalitions that organize to prevent youth substance use.  The DFC program has funded nearly 2,000 coalitions and currently mobilizes nearly 9,000 community volunteers across the country.  In Ulster County, Kingston Cares and the Community Partnership for a Safer New Paltz have received DFC funding. Recent evaluation data indicate that where DFC dollars are invested, youth substance use is lower.
Over the past five years, DFC-funded communities have achieved significant reductions in youth alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use.  For middle school youth living in DFC-funded communities, data from the 2011 DFC National Evaluation indicate a 12% reduction in alcohol use, 28% reduction in tobacco use, and 24% reduction in marijuana use.  High school-aged youth have reduced their use of alcohol by 8%, tobacco by 17%, and marijuana by 11% in DFC-funded communities. Even when communities start their coalition work with substance use rates higher than the national average, they were able to reduce to rates lower than the national average through organized and effective coalition work.

Recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) as well as local data indicate increases in youth prescription drug abuse, as well as marijuana and ecstasy.  Now, more than ever, coalitions are needed in local communities to help prevent drug use and reduce its consequences. 
In the coming months, the Ulster Prevention Council will be hosting community meetings throughout the county to raise awareness about local youth substance use issues and the importance of engaging all sectors of the community in addressing these issues.  To host a community meeting or find out about organizing a coalition in your area, please contact me at the UPC, 458-7406 or email Coalitions work!


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Friday, February 3, 2012

2/3/12: Alcohol and the Superbowl

Alcohol and the Superbowl
On February 5, millions of Americans will drive to a friend or family member's house to watch the Giants meet the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. While the big game is one of the most exciting events of the football season, it is also one of the most dangerous as roads are filled with too many impaired drivers wending their way back home after the parties. Contributing to the inherent dangers of drinking and driving is the relatively late kickoff (6:30 p.m., ET) and the fact that the game may go on for hours.
Last year approximately 151.6 million people viewed at least part of the Super Bowl. Americans consume more than 325.5 million gallons of beer during the Super Bowl, which is approximately 17 times the amount consumed on the average any other day of the year (Nielsen Research).
According to the most recent figures from the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010, alcohol-impaired-driving crashes accounted for 31 percent of the total motor vehicle traffic fatalities. On Super Bowl Sunday, 48 percent of the fatalities occurred in crashes in which a driver or motorcycle rider had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08 or higher. In fact, more than 13,000 Americans died that year in crashes involving an impaired driver.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with support from the National Football League (NFL) have joined forces with local highway safety and law enforcement officials to spread an important safety message to the public about designating a sober driver on Super Bowl Sunday – Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk.

“This message is for everyone who will be drinking during the big game. Make the right play and pass your keys to a designated driver so they can get you home safely,” said Captain Ivan Minsal. “There is no excuse to get flagged for a false start.”

Driving while impaired could result in a loss of your driver’s license or even possibly the loss of your or someone else’s life. On Super Bowl Sunday, make it a team effort to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. If you plan on driving, plan not to drink alcohol.

If you are hosting a Super Bowl party:
• Make sure all of your guests designate their sober drivers before kick-off or help arrange ride-sharing with sober drivers.
• Find unique ways to recognize the designated drivers at your party:
  -Give them a great spot to watch the game.
  -Whatever non-alcoholic beverage they are drinking, make sure their glass is always full.
 - Let them have the first pass at the buffet table.
 - Make sure their cars are easy to access when it is time to start driving people home.
• Serve plenty of food.
• Offer a variety of non-alcoholic choices like soft drinks, juice, and water.
• Serve one drink at a time and serve measured drinks.
• Only serve alcohol to guests over 21 years of age.
• Determine ahead of time when you’ll stop serving alcohol, such as one hour before the party ends or at the end of the third quarter (just like NFL stadiums) and begin serving coffee and dessert.
• Add the numbers of local cab companies into your phone so they are just one touch away.
• Take appropriate steps to prevent anyone from drinking and driving.
• Be prepared for guests to spend the night if an alternative way home is not available.
• Remember, you can be held liable and prosecuted if someone you served ends up in a drunk-driving crash.

If you are attending a Super Bowl party or watching at a sports bar or restaurant, please follow these guidelines to make sure you enjoy Super Bowl XLVI responsibly:
• Designate your sober driver before the party begins.
• Avoid drinking too much alcohol too fast. Pace yourself—eat enough food, take breaks, and alternate with non-alcoholic drinks.
• If you don’t have a designated driver, ask a sober friend for a ride home; call a cab, friend, or family member to come and get you; or just stay where you are and sleep it off until you are sober.
• Use your community’s sober ride program.
• Always buckle up – it’s the best defense against other drunk driving.