After his family’s tragedy, a Swedish caregiver logs miles to save lives

September 20, 2023 Swedish Communications

[4 min read]

In this article: 

  • After his beloved cousin took his own life, Providence Swedish's Dr. Peter Olson sought ways to support suicide prevention efforts. 
  • Dr. Olson is running in November's New York City Marathon to raise funds for Solace House, which supports those struggling with suicidal impulses as well as those bereaved by a suicide. 
  • September is Suicide Prevention Month.  

Almost every day for the last few months, Peter Olson, M.D., an internal medicine specialist at Swedish, has laced up his running shoes and headed out the door to train for one of the world’s toughest athletic events — the New York City Marathon. Training for the marathon is by any measure a serious undertaking and completing the 26.2-mile course is an achievement for any athlete — whether they are an amateur or a seasoned elite.

On Nov. 5, Dr. Olson won’t be at the starting line in New York to run for accolades, bragging rights or the finisher’s medal. He’ll be running to celebrate the life of his beloved cousin Brandon, who died by suicide this past June. The death left him feeling powerless, Dr. Olson says.

Dr. Peter Olson, at right, with his late cousin Brandon. Brandon took his own life in June. Dr. Olson is running this year's New York City Marathon in Brandon's memory and to raise funds for the suicide prevention organization, Solace House. Top photo: Dr. Olson on a recent training run. 

“Brandon was not someone who people thought was struggling with mental health issues,” says Dr. Olson, who serves as Providence Swedish First Hill system chief of medicine and regional medical director. “He was a very successful individual with a wife and kids. He looked like the definition of the modern success story. [His death] really rocked our world.”

In his grief, Dr. Olson began looking for resources and suicide prevention organizations to work with to help make sense of what happened. The impulse to do something is part of the nature of caregiving, he says. He eventually found Solace House, an organization dedicated to suicide prevention and supporting anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts, as well as those bereaved by suicide.

“Solace House is a NYC Marathon partner and sponsors a couple of runners each year [who run to raise money for the organization],” he says. “So, I reached out to them and exactly 16 weeks from marathon day they asked me if I wanted to run for them.”

The donation request for Solace House runners was $3,000. By early September, Dr. Olson and his wife had raised close to $10,000 for the organization.

“Brandon was an amazing athlete. Whether it was skiing or running cross country, he just excelled at what he did, so this is a nice way for me to stay connected with him. I’ll be wearing a black bracelet to keep his memory with me and to remind myself that I am running to help people dealing with suicide and reduce its impact,” Dr. Olson shares.

“If anyone is experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm, I really encourage them to start getting help and talking to their primary care doctor. It’s a really safe place to start that conversation. There are many therapies and medications that can help,” Dr. Olson advises. “We also need to remember to check on our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers—maybe you can help them identify why they are having those feelings and help them focus on the reasons for being here.”     

Help is available

If you are in a crisis, call 911 or 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The 988 Lifeline can connect you with trained professionals experienced in crisis intervention. Help is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 988 if you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, suicidal thoughts, a substance abuse crisis or emotional distress. Family and friends can call 988 for a loved one needing crisis support.

Learn more and find a provider

If you have questions about behavioral health services or would like to schedule an appointment, contact Swedish Behavioral Health. Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options.

Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instructions and follow up as needed. If you need to find a provider, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Additional resources

Suicide is not the answer. Help is available. 

What’s 988? What you need to know about the new national mental health crisis hotline

Understanding grief

Epidemic of loneliness and isolation

Integrated approach targets both physical and mental health | The Seattle Times

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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