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In Loving Memory of Dr. Elaine Leader, Founder of Teen Line

It is with profound sadness that I share news that Dr. Elaine Leader (1927-2023), Founder and Director Emeritus of Teen Line, passed away peacefully today at the age of ninety five.

Dr. Leader’s impact on the mental health and suicide prevention community is immeasurable, and her loss equally profound.

Dr. Leader emigrated to Los Angeles from England in 1965, but she never lost her accent or propriety. She earned her PhD from the California Institute for Clinical Social Work, and was particularly proud to be called “Doctor” Elaine Leader.

Dr. Leader maintained a private practice well into her 95th year, with a passion for group psychotherapy and adolescents. She held a weekly adolescent group for decades, and loved when her teenage “patients” (as she called them) found her as adults. Her interest in adolescent group dynamics led her to Cedars Sinai, where she was a clinical social worker and Coordinator of Adolescent Group Psychotherapy Training from 1972-1994. Seeing the power of teen-to-teen connection led her to collaborate with her colleagues, Miguel Ramirez, MSW and Dr Terry Lipton to create the Center for the Study of Young People in Groups, from which Teen Line and its training program was born. Since 1980 when Teen Line began, over 2000 teens have been trained to be active listeners and mental health ambassadors to their communities, and hundreds of thousands of teens have been helped through the power of peer-to-peer communication.

I encourage you to read a blog she wrote in 2015 detailing the history of our hotline as well as view a tribute video Didi Hirsch produced for their Alive Together event this past October.

Dr Leader was fearless and passionate about her baby, Teen Line, and that passion and fearlessness has led to its success for over 40 years. She was also ahead of her time; she started doing LGBTQ outreach before LGBTQ issues were talked about mainstream, and before the term LGBTQ really existed. The outreach was called “Growing up Gay,” which makes me cringe a bit now.

Dr. Leader never shied away from the tough subjects or missed an opportunity to make a difference. When she overheard a law enforcement officer say “have you seen a crazy teenager around here,?” after a call to get help for a suicidal caller, she began training officers at the LAPD Juvenile Procedures schools on how to help suicidal teens.  This program continued from 1996 until the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down.

In the early 90s, Dr Leader began Teen Line’s “Food for Thought” luncheon where the idea was to fundraise, but also to educate, on a relevant topic. The luncheon has honored such notables as Ellen DeGeneres and her mother, right when she came out on public television and her show was cancelled, as well as Rosa Parks in one of her last public appearances. In 2011, we had to pivot locations last minute when the owner of the luncheon’s scheduled venue denounced the gay community, making me even prouder to be a part of this organization. Dr Leader’s hair was always impeccable for these events, and her outfits bold and vivacious like her. I don’t know many others who could get away with wearing leather pants in their 80s.

Left: Dr. Elaine Leader and Dr. Terry Lipton with teens at the 1990 Food For Thought Luncheon. Right: Teen Line Volunteers with Rosa Parks at 1999 Food For Thought Luncheon.

Dr. Leader never missed an opportunity to speak on camera, or to get involved with a family who was struggling. Whereas others might have avoided the pain of families who had lost a child to suicide, she jumped in to support. She later coached many of these parents to be speakers on her suicide prevention panel, which helped bring some meaning to their losses.

Until 2015, Dr. Leader served as Teen Line’s Executive Director, but continued as the back up supervisor for the hotline 3-4 nights per week, remaining sharp as a tack in her memory, particularly for anything Teen Line related. She learned to use Zoom in her 90s and always had a new idea or opinion. On one of my last visits with her, after she had become bedbound, she thought to put on earrings, always wanting to look her best.

Dr. Leader, you will always be an inspiration to me and our Teen Line family. With the support of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services and Cedars Sinai, we will keep your “baby” and legacy alive for coming generations.

Our fearless (Doctor) leader might be gone, but she’ll forever live on in our hearts. Our love and thoughts go out to her large extended family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, of which she was so proud.

Contributions in her memory can be made to Teen Line, a Program of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.


Cheryl Karp Eskin, MA, LMFT
Senior Director, Teen Line

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