2023 Youth Suicide Prevention Symposium

The symposium was held on Thursday, November 16, 2023 at the Lowry Conference Center in Denver. Below are the presentation slides that the plenaries have made available to the public.

8:00 AM – 8:15 AM    Welcome & Introductions

Christine R. Harms, MS, Director – Office of School Safety, 
Colorado Department of Public Safety
Lena Heilman, Ph.D., M.N.M., Director – Office of Suicide Prevention, 
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

8:15 AM – 9:45 AM    Plenary – Understanding the Intersection of Racism and Suicide Risk: 
        A Context for Suicide Prevention Efforts

Janel Cubbage, MS, LCPC
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Mental Health 
Structural, interpersonal, and internalized racism are contributors to suicide risk, but are understudied from literature and research within the field of suicide prevention. Racism has long been ignored as a critical contributing factor to suicidal ideation, attempts and deaths. Interpersonal racism can be postulated as a risk factor for suicide through the framework of Joiner’s Interpersonal Theory of Suicide as well as other theories of suicide. Critiques of the suicidology field and future directions will be shared to broaden the participant’s understanding of suicide and its prevention in the context of racism.

9:45 AM – 10:00 AM    Break
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM    Plenary – Supporting Adoptees and Suicide Prevention

Kristen Santel, LISW-S
Santel & Kerr, LLC
Adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than nonadopted individuals. Kristen Santel is an adult adoptee and psychotherapist in Columbus, Ohio, and focuses on developmental trauma and attachment in her group practice. This plenary session will spend time exploring how and why the attachment trauma of adoption increases risk of suicidality, the neurobiology and neurophysiology of developmental trauma, and the adoptee’s unique experience with self-abandonment. Concepts and themes of connection, internal and external attachment-seeking behavior, rupture and repair, and the internal working models of adoptees will be explored. Time will be spent on ways to manage risk, increase internal and external resources, and connect and attune to safety.

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM        Lunch

12:30 PM – 2:00 PM    Plenary – Understanding & Treatment of Self-Injurious Thoughts 
    and Behaviors

Kathryn Fox, Ph.D.
University of Denver
This final plenary presentation will discuss suicide and related thoughts and behaviors among youth. First, Dr. Fox will talk about rates of suicide and related behaviors among youth as well as groups at high risk for these outcomes. Second, Dr. Fox will talk about our current understanding of why youth engage in these behaviors, and theories for why some groups are at particularly high risk. Third, Dr. Fox will share common myths and misconceptions that get in the way of asking youth about their thoughts of suicide. She'll then discuss ethics related to suicide risk assessment, and how our intervention methods can actually discourage youth from honestly sharing about their mental health challenges and suicide risk. Finally, Dr. Fox will provide take-homes for how we can provide help and support to youth struggling with suicidal thoughts.  

2:00 PM – 2:15 PM     Break

2:15 PM – 3:45 PM    Plenary – Eating Disorders and Suicide

April Smith, Ph.D.
Auburn University 
Eating disorders and suicide are significant public health problems. It is estimated that 10,000 individuals die prematurely because of an eating disorder every year. Additionally, more than 800,000 lives are lost globally to suicide each year. Research has also begun to make clear that eating disorders and suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and suicide death commonly co-occur. More than half of those with an eating disorder think about suicide and over one-quarter attempt suicide. Individuals with anorexia nervosa are 18-31 times more likely to die by suicide than their peers without the disorder. Over the course of this talk, Dr. Smith will further review prevalence rates of eating disorders, suicidality, and their co-occurrence. She will also highlight theoretical reasons why these conditions may be so robustly related. In particular, she will theorize that becoming disconnected from the body can facilitate self-harming behaviors. She will conclude by discussing ways to improve connection with the body as well as reviewing other treatment options.

3:45 PM    Adjournment


Janel Cubbage, MS, LCPC
Janel Cubbage currently works as a public health advisor at the federal level. She most recently served as the Strategic Partnerships and Equity Program Manager at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. Janel began her career providing case management and care coordination to adjudicated youth, where she encountered firsthand the deleterious effects of gun violence. It was then that Janel made a commitment to prevent gun violence and care for those who have been affected. Janel transitioned to a career as a suicidologist, where she gained experience managing prevention programs for the military, serving as the Director of Suicide Prevention at Maryland’s Behavioral Health Administration, and chairing Maryland’s Governor’s Commission on Suicide Prevention. Janel also works as a licensed trauma therapist, specializing in providing therapy for minoritized communities. She is passionate about healing racial trauma and actively working for racial and social justice. Janel is a recent Fellow of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative and earned her MPH at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 2022. Janel also holds a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling from McDaniel College.

Kathryn Fox, Ph.D.
Kathryn Fox is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver. Her research seeks to better understand and treat suicide and self-harming thoughts and behaviors, broadly defined, especially among teens and LGBTQIA+ people.

Kristen Santel, LISW-S
Kristen Santel, LISW-S, is an adult adoptee and psychotherapist in the States of Ohio and Arizona focused on working with adults, children and teens managing complex and developmental trauma, PTSD, traumatic grief, attachment challenges, relationship issues, and dissociative disorders. Kristen has a specialization in working with the adoption, foster, and kinship care community. She is a Level II EMDR Psychotherapist with Advanced and Master Class Training in Attachment and Somatic Psychotherapy, certified hypnotherapist with American Society of Clinical Hypnotherapy, a Certified Trauma Practitioner, as well as being trained in many other modalities with extensive training in IPNB (Interpersonal Neurobiology) focusing on somatic psychotherapy and attachment and informed by Internal Family Systems.

Kristen is also a founder and the Clinical Director of Camp Lionheart, one of the country’s only week-long, clinical grief camps for children, now in its 17th year of existence providing grief support, compassion, trauma-focused counseling, and lots of summer camp fun to children suffering the death of parent or sibling.

April Smith, Ph.D.
Dr. Smith is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology at Auburn University and the
director of the Research on Eating Disorders and Suicidality (REDS) Laboratory. She received her
B.A. in Psychology and Plan II from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Smith received her
Ph.D. from Florida State University’s Clinical Psychology Program and completed her clinical
residency at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Smith was an associate professor at
Miami University for nine years before taking a position at Auburn University in 2021. After
starting her position at Auburn, Dr. Smith helped found the Auburn Eating Disorders Clinic
where she serves as a co-director. Dr. Smith was named a 2016 Rising Star by the Association
for Psychological Science. She has published over 125 peer reviewed papers on the topics of
eating disorders, suicidality, and their co-occurrence. Additionally, Dr. Smith has received over
$6.5 million in funding from the Department of Defense and NIMH to support her work on
eating disorders and suicide.