Lived Experience Committee
Joanne Harpel, Co-chair
An international authority on the aftermath of suicide with 20+ years of experience, Joanne L. Harpel, MPhil, JD, has a nationwide practice providing guidance and support to individuals and families, schools and colleges, faith communities, and workplaces coping with suicide loss. She also conducts professional education on suicide bereavement and postvention for mental health clinicians, health care professionals, clergy, funeral directors, and educators. Joanne is a former attorney and the longtime survivor of her own brother’s suicide. She is the former Senior Director for Public Affairs and Postvention for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a founding co-lead of SAMHSA’s National Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force. She received the American Association of Suicidology’s Survivor of the Year Award and sits on its Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force and Workplace Committee. Joanne is a seasoned guest lecturer, including at the United Nations, on Capitol Hill, and for the American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, International Association for Suicide Prevention, and Bereaved Parents of the USA. She’s trained the chaplains of the U.S. Army and Veterans Administration, the psychologists affiliated with the South Korea National Police Agency, and the crisis response team of a major public university. A cum laude graduate of Amherst College, she also holds graduate degrees from Cambridge University and the New York University School of Law.
Shelby Rowe, Co-chair
Shelby Rowe is the program manager for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, an award-winning artist, mother of three sons and suicide attempt survivor. She is the recipient of the 2021 American Association of Suicidology Transforming Lived Experience Award and the 2016 Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year. Ms. Rowe has been a leader in the suicide prevention movement at the local, state and national level since 2007. Ms. Rowe serves on the American Indian/Alaska Native Task Force and the Care Transitions Advisory Group for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the Clinical Advisory Board for Crisis Text Line, and is the co-chair for the Lived Experience Committee for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In 2019, she co-founded the Indigenous Peoples’ Committee for the American Association of Suicidology, and was recently elected secretary for the AAS board of directors. She is an experienced public speaker and regularly travels across the country to speak. She holds a B.A. in Sociology and Philosophy, and an M.B.A.
Adam Swanson provides consultation support to state governments, tribal nations, and university systems as a senior prevention specialist at the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at EDC. He is a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s Individual and Family Lived Experience Committee and a former Lambda Literary Fellow in nonfiction. He has previously worked at the National Council for Behavioral Health, Mental Health America, and the United States Senate. Swanson holds a Master’s of Public Policy from George Mason University and is an alumnus of George Washington University’s LGBT Health Policy and Practice Graduate Certificate Program, where he was the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Student Awardee.
Alison Malmon is founder and Executive Director of Active Minds, the leading national organization mobilizing the next generation to change the conversation about mental health in America. She started the program while a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, following the suicide of her older brother and only sibling, Brian. Wanting to combat the stigma that had caused Brian to suffer in silence and ultimately take his own life, she created a group on her campus that promoted an open, enlightened dialogue around the issues. Just two years later in 2003, Ms. Malmon formed the 501(c)(3) organization in order to develop and support young adult mobilization on campuses and communities nationwide, and has served as its Executive Director ever since. Active Minds has grown to have a presence at just over 800 colleges, high schools, and workplaces, and serves as the national voice for education and behavior change in mental health. In addition to her position on the Consumer/Survivor Committee of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Alison serves on the Advisory Board at Crisis Text Line.
April C. Foreman, Ph.D., is a Licensed Psychologist serving Veterans as a Clinical Outreach Specialist in Technology and Innovation for the Veterans Crisis Line. She is an Executive Committee member for the Board of the American Association of Suicidology, and has served VA as the 2017 Acting Director of Technology and Innovation for the Office of Suicide Prevention. She is a member of the team that launched OurDataHelps.org, a recognized innovation in data donation for ground breaking suicide research. She is passionate about helping people with severe (sometimes lethal) emotional pain, and in particular advocates for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, which has one of the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses. She is known for her work at the intersection of technology, social media, and mental health, with nationally recognized implementations of innovations in the use of technology and mood tracking. She is the 2015 recipient of the Roger J. Tierney Award for her work as a founder and moderator of the first sponsored regular mental health chat on Twitter, the weekly Suicide Prevention Social Media chat (#SPSM, sponsored by the American Association of Suicidology, AAS). Her dream is to use her unique skills and vision to build a mental health system effectively and elegantly designed to serve the people who need it.
Brett Wean is the Senior Communications Writer for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. One of the most personally fulfilling aspects of his job is helping those affected by suicide share their stories through blog articles and video interviews, drawing on his past experience in book publishing and having performed and taught improvisation at The People’s Improv Theater in New York City. His personal connection to the cause stems from losing his mother to suicide. In addition to his writing responsibilities at AFSP, he moderates the bi-monthly Facebook Live show “Ask Dr. Jill,” with AFSP Vice President of Research Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, co-presented by The Mighty. Brett has worked on campaigns with Instagram and Netflix, and provides creative feedback on safe storytelling for film and TV, including 13 Reasons Why, Grey’s Anatomy, Cheer, Chris Gethard’s Career Suicide, and Gary Gulman’s The Great Depresh. Brett graduated from Vassar College, and currently lives in New York City with his wife.
Calvin Stowell is the Chief Growth Officer at The Trevor Project – the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people under the age of 25. Mr. Stowell oversees all external communications and marketing for The Trevor Project, and is focused on making sure every young person who needs the services it provides knows and trusts the organization. Prior to The Trevor Project Mr. Stowell oversaw external communications, marketing and partnerships at DoSomething.org, the largest youth organization in the world.
Cheryl Sharp, President and CEO of Sharp Change Consulting, Inc. holds the unique perspective of a person who has recovered from significant mental health challenges, a trauma survivor, a family member of a loved one who died as a result of mental health challenges, and a provider of substance abuse and mental health services. She is an exclusive consultant to the National Council for Behavioral Health where she developed the nationally recognized curriculum used to bring Trauma-Informed Approaches to systems, organizations and agencies across the country. Sharp has worked with adult trauma survivors for over 34 years and trains and speaks internationally on trauma-informed approaches and suicide prevention. Sharp is also a Mental Health First Aid National Trainer. She received a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) Voice Award in 2015 for her work and personal stories educating the public about trauma and behavioral health and the Lou Ann Townsend Courage Award for her contributions to persons with psychiatric disabilities. On Our Own of Maryland honored Sharp in 2018 for her contributions to the network through Wellness Recovery Action Planning®. Sharp believes in the limitless possibilities found within each of us to live our lives from a place of personal power. She is Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery Center and enjoys living her life to the fullest as a traveler, mother and grandmother in eastern North Carolina.
Chris has worked in the suicide prevention and mental health field for over a decade, first as a volunteer crisis counselor and then later as a statewide suicide prevention grant administrator. He was previously with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and worked closely with crisis centers across the country to connect and collaborate. He is passionate about understanding suicide, harnessing the capability of social media to prevent it, and strives to advocate for the voices of those with lived experience. Mr. Maxwell is an advisory board member for OurDataHelps.org, which allows people to donate their social media data to be used for mental health research and allow clinicians to create treatment tools. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD). Follow him on twitter @chrsmxwll.
DeQuincy Lezine is a suicide attempt survivor who has been active in suicide prevention since 1996. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology from UCLA and completed a suicide prevention postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Rochester. Dr. Lezine is the Chair of the Attempt Survivor and Lived Experience Division of AAS and former Co-Chair of the Consumer Survivor Committee for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Dr. Lezine was the primary writer for The Way Forward published by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the SAMHSA 2015 Voice Awards. He is the Director of the Lived Experience Academy and CEO of Prevention Communities. For more information, please see here: https://vimeo.com/304326766
Elena Rose Vera
Rev. Elena Rose Vera is the Executive Director of Trans Lifeline, the largest direct-services provider for transgender people in North America. With an innovative community-led peer-support and crisis hotline and a microgrants program providing low-barrier financial aid to trans people in need of specialized help, Trans Lifeline is dedicated to providing the resources, community, and support trans people need to survive and thrive. Originally from rural Oregon, Rev. Vera was ordained as a minister by the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, a historic civil-rights congregation in San Francisco, and is a longtime organizer, educator, performing artist, and interfaith justice activist. She is proud to bring her deep commitment to liberatory community care to her work with the Lifeline.
Franklin Cook has been a peer grief helper since 1999, first working exclusively with the suicide bereaved, then also helping U.S. military families bereaved by any manner of death. For the past three years, he has specialized in peer grief support for people bereaved by a death from substance use—and now manages SADOD (Support After a Death by Overdose), a statewide project funded by the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Addiction Services that is implementing peer grief support services for family members, people in recovery, and frontline care providers affected by substance-use fatalities. Franklin is an experienced program developer, trainer, and advocate in his field, and has served on the boards of directors of the Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN USA) and the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors. He also co-led the Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, which in 2015 published national guidelines for suicide grief support. He was named Survivor of the Year in 2013 by the American Association of Suicidology, and he has been a member of the Lifeline Individual and Family Lived Experience Committee since 2005. Franklin serves as a peer grief helper in memory of his father, Joseph, who died by suicide in 1978 after a lifelong struggle with alcoholism.
Iden is a native New Yorker by way of DC transplant who now calls Portland home. Iden has been an activist for most of his career first as an advocate for those with Intellectual/Developmental disabilities and then moving to suicide prevention and mental health activism. Iden decided to speak out against transgender violence in 2011 when his intern LaShay McClean was murdered in Washington, DC. Iden knew that he could no longer live under the radar as a Black transgender man and not speak out against the violence surrounding Black trans women. With that passion, Iden became a national speaker around social justice for transgender people, in general, ensuring that the healthcare needs of trans people were heard at the myriad of tables. Iden enjoys collecting comic books, comic con, college sports, camping, sailing, and powerboating. (Pronouns: Iden/he/him/they/them)
Julie is a life-long Alaskan, born and raised in the charming rural community of Nome, Alaska. She is the granddaughter of pioneer goldminers who came to Nome during the goldrush in the early 1900’s. She now lives in the beautiful city of Anchorage, Alaska with her wonderful husband Darrell an administrator for the past 36 years in the Anchorage School District, and their rescue dog “Little.” They have two amazing daughters who graduated from Colorado State University, Taylor 27 and Tyra 22. Both daughters currently work and reside in Colorado with frequent trips home to Alaska. Julie has spent the past 38 years working with high risk youth both in corrections and in the field of education. She has worked for the Anchorage School District for the past 29 years as a clinical counselor and crisis response specialist, her specialties include suicide prevention, intervention and crisis response, grief counseling, substance abuse/addiction counseling and support, and adolescent wellness. She has trained thousands of staff and students in the district in Change of Heart and Be the Change workshops which are student led trainings designed to enhance school climate in a peer to peer model. She has also trained hundreds of new to district teachers in the importance of building relationships with youth and implementing the 40 Developmental Asset framework. Julie has a B.S. in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Psychology, Clinical Counseling. Much of her work in the Anchorage School District has involved crisis intervention and prevention. She was a committee member assigned by the superintendent and tasked with designing the school district’s suicide intervention and response plan. She is a passionate youth advocate and is equally passionate about giving back to her community. She is a dedicated volunteer, mentor and trainer. She is currently serving on the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council Advisory Board to the Governor, has served on the State Board of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), YWCA, Juvenile Justice Committee, Anchorage School Business Partnership, Career Technical Education Advisory Board, Secondary Counselors Advisory Board and various youth empowerment committees.
Kate Hardy is the founder and CEO of Six Feet Over, a Michigan based nonprofit, created to serve the survivors of suicide loss in her community with financial assistance for associated costs after loss as well as provide outreach and resource information. Six Feet Over, and its program Suck It! Suicide, are focused on helping all survivors, with a special interest in the non mainstream community and youth demographics. Suck It! Suicide uses nonconventional outreach settings and venues to reach these demographics, meeting them where they are at. Kate is the survivor of eight losses by suicide beginning with the loss of her mother in 2003. She found that support groups and functions catered to the norm of society and saw the need within her community for information, conversations and postvention after loss. She has been recognized as the 2017 American Association of Suicidology Loss Survivor of the Year. Kate has been a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Individual and Family Lived Experience Committee, the Lifeline Chat Work-group, an advisor on the Michigan Suicide Prevention Plan Workgroup, a member of the International Messaging Advisory Group, and national speaker.
Kelly Davis’ lived experience with mental health diagnoses and trauma are at the center of her passion for transforming how we support individuals and change systems and services. She is currently the Director of Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services at Mental Health America, where she is involved in promoting peer support, peer certification, youth and young adult leadership, and college mental health. She is passionate about trauma-informed care, peer support, consumer-led transformation, positive psychology, and civil rights. She serves in an advisory role to the Well Being Trust, The Support Network, and the Center for Law and Social Policy. She has spoken at many events, including The White House Making Health Care Better Series on Mental Health, and has been featured in media outlets including NBC Nightly News, The Mighty, Thrive Global, Yes! Magazine, and Mashable. In 2019, Kelly was awarded the Disruptive Innovator Award by the International Association of Peer Supporters, an award given to a young person making positive change in mental health through positive disruption.
Kristofer Goldsmith is the founder and president of High Ground Veterans Advocacy, a 501c3 not-for-profit, which partners with military and Veterans Service Organizations to train veterans to become grassroots advocates and leaders in their local communities. Kris was born in New York and joined the Army to serve as a forward observer with the Army’s Third Infantry Division shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He deployed with Alpha Company of the Third Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for the year of 2005. Since separating from the Army with a General Discharge after surviving a PTSD-related suicide attempt, Kris has become an advocate for veterans with PTSD and those with less-than-honorable discharges. Twelve years after his separation from the military, the Army corrected his discharge characterization to Honorable. From 2016-2020, Kris worked on the policy and government affairs team at Vietnam Veteran of America, where he had the opportunity to develop and see implemented the congressional budgetary trick that removed the delimiting date for what became the “Forever GI Bill.” As VVA’s chief investigator, he wrote the definitive work on foreign entities that target troops, veterans, and their families online. He believes it is the responsibility of today’s young veterans to keep the motto of Vietnam Veterans of America alive: “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”
Lauren Hope is a Registered Peer Recovery Specialist in Virginia. Hope works to keep people struggling with substance use disorder engaged in treatment, and recovery. She also serves on the Virginia Chapter Board of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and is an In Our Own Voice presenter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Coastal Virginia. In 2014, Hope survived a suicide attempt and lost everything. Homeless, and unemployed Lauren found hope and healing through personal storytelling. She chronicled her mental health journey and road out of homelessness on her popular blog Good Girl Chronicles. This lead led to a creation of her business and career as a motivational speaker. Good Girl Chronicles LLC is a media consulting, and speaking business. Hope also produces a small storytelling night featuring survival stories called Spark of Hope Storytelling Night. Hope is passionate about educating people about suicide prevention, and how to ask for help. One day, Hope wants to publish a memoir on her journey and travel the country with her message. Hope graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and is currently pursuing her masters in Strategic Communications at Regent University.
Leah Harris, M.A. is a writer, ex-patient, and suicide attempt survivor who promotes human rights, social justice-based approaches for understanding and responding to emotional distress, drug use, and suicide. Leah speaks and facilitates workshops on trauma-informed, harm-reduction, rights-based approaches to policy and practice across sectors and communities, including health care, education, and human services. Her writing is included in the 2019 anthology edited by Kelechi Ubozoh and L.D. Green, We’ve Been Too Patient: Voices from Radical Mental Health (North Atlantic Books/Random House). She is a correspondent with the webzine Mad in America, covering mental health policy and technology. Her story is featured in The S Word, an award-winning documentary about suicide.
Misha Kessler is a published and award-winning advocate with eight years of experience finding creative digital solutions in the mental health space. Misha began his career in the social work and nonprofit sectors, finding motivation in his own adolescent experiences with suicidality. Soon after, he pivoted into software engineering and social entrepreneurship, pursuing the goal of amplifying the social sector’s impact. Passionate about cutting-edge, user-driven technologies in mental healthcare, Misha has founded and continues to work on many social benefit projects. In addition, Misha routinely interviews with news media outlets, speaks at conferences and summits, and contributes through advisory and leadership roles, including: Vice President of the Executive Board of Six Feet Over; Member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s Individual and Family Lived Experience Committee; Member of the New York State Suicide Prevention Council and Chair of the Community Workgroup; and Member of the New York State CDC Suicide Syndromic Surveillance Grant Advisory Group.
Sally Spencer-Thomas is a clinical psychologist, inspirational international keynote speaker, podcaster and an impact entrepreneur. Dr. Spencer-Thomas was moved to work in suicide prevention after her younger brother, a Denver entrepreneur, died of suicide after a difficult battle with bipolar condition. Known nationally and internationally as an innovator in social change, Spencer-Thomas has helped start up multiple large-scale, gap filling efforts in mental health including the award-winning campaign Man Therapy (www.ManTherapy.org) and was the lead author on the National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention (www.WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com). Spencer-Thomas has held leadership positions for the International Association for Suicide Prevention, the American Association for Suicidology, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. She has won multiple awards for her advocacy including the 2014 Survivor of the Year from the American Association of Suicidology, the 2014 Invisible Disabilities Association Impact Honors Award, and the 2012 Alumni Master Scholar from the University of Denver, the 2015 Farbarow Award from the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the 2016 Career Achievement Alumni Award from the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology. In 2016 she was an invited speaker at the White House where she presented on men’s mental health. In her recent TEDx Talk she shares her goal to elevate the conversation to make mental health promotion and suicide prevention a health and safety priority in our schools, workplaces and communities. She has a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Denver, Masters in Non-profit Management from Regis University, a Bachelors in Psychology and Studio Art with a Minor in Economics from Bowdoin College. She has written four books on mental health and violence prevention. She lives with her partner and three sons in Conifer, Colorado. Connect with Sally at www.SallySpencerThomas.com and on Facebook (@DrSallySpeaks), Instagram/Twitter (@sspencerthomas) and LinkedIn and on her “Hope Illuminated” podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.
Stan has worked in the suicide prevention field for two decades since losing a friend to suicide in high school, utilizing his experience to support and develop strategies to create system level change around suicide prevention. He currently works as a consultant in the field of suicide prevention, focusing on technical assistance in creation and implementation of suicide prevention curricula and strategies. As a former lifeguard and emergency medical technician, and coming from a law enforcement family, he has a passion for mental health and suicide prevention among first responders. Stan served as the subject matter expert in the development and roll-out of the “StopFirearmSuicideSD.org” campaign, partnering with gun shop owners to coordinate the promotion and awareness of suicide prevention in the firearm owning community. Stan also has a passion for youth-focused suicide prevention and is the co-founder of The Directing Change Program and Film Contest (www.DirectingChangeCA.org).
Stephanie Hepburn, J.D., serves as the Chief Content Officer at RI International. She is the editor in chief of #CrisisTalk, a publication of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) and its Crisis Now partners, which launched in May 2019. The publication provides a space for diverse stakeholders to share their thoughts and knowledge on suicide and mental health crisis. In each weekly article, Ms. Hepburn interviews an expert, highlighting a challenge, lived experience, or innovation. She is also the editor in chief of Hope Inc. Stories, an RI International publication launched in December 2019 that focuses on recovery and hope, striking an essential, tangible balance between sharing people’s better days and the challenges they face. Before joining RI International, Ms. Hepburn was a newspaper journalist. She was also a consultant for NASMHPD and wrote pieces on mental health and human trafficking, including adverse childhood experiences, crisis services, implicit bias, natural disasters and human trafficking, biographical timelines, and the qualitative benefits of trauma-informed care. Ms. Hepburn has written three books on human rights. She has spoken on the nuances of human trafficking to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York and to members of the United States Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program. Ms. Hepburn has a B.S. in Biopsychology and Cognitive Science from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from the Washington College of Law at American University. During law school, she was an Equal Justice America fellow. In 2007, the American Library Association awarded Ms. Hepburn the CHOICE award for Outstanding Academic Title Women’s Roles and Statuses the World Over. Ms. Hepburn writes articles and books with the intent of increasing the public’s awareness of discrimination and marginalized populations while highlighting ways to foster parity.
Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters at Columbine High School in 1999 who killed twelve students and a teacher and injured more than twenty others before taking their own lives. Since the tragedy, Sue has worked to understand the crucial intersection between mental health problems and violence. From her book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (Crown, 2016) she has donated all author profits to mental health and suicide prevention organizations. Her book has been translated into a dozen languages and published throughout the world. In trying to raise awareness about suicide, murder-suicide, mass violence and brain health, Sue has participated in numerous interviews, webinars, and podcasts, and her TEDTALK has been seen by nearly ten million viewers. Sue has a Master’s Degree in Education from Cardinal Stritch College, and worked in the Colorado Community College System for twenty-five years. She is a member of the Loss and Healing Council of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and serves on the Individual and Family Lived Experience Committee of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For speaking engagements, Sue is represented by BrightSight Group.