Keynote Presentations

Why Working Harder Isn't Working: How White Supremacy Culture Undermines our Efforts - Jess Stohlmann-Rainey

This session will explore the ways in which white supremacy culture has shaped suicide prevention and interferes with our ability to understand and effectively support suicidal people. Mainstream suicide prevention is dominated by an understanding of suicide that locates the problem of suicide within individuals, and then pathologizes it. Most mainstream suicide prevention efforts ignore the cultural and social factors that contribute to suicide, thereby whitewashing it. This approach is not only deeply embedded in white supremacy, but has failed to produce desired outcomes at scale. Despite all of mainstream suicide prevention’s efforts, suicide rates in the United States have continued to rise. Jess will use Tema Okun's white supremacy culture framework to analyze how this culture operates in mainstream suicide prevention; how this culture has interfered with our ability to understand and prevent suicide; and propose alternative ways of thinking about and implementing suicidology that decolonize our work.

Jess Stohlmann-Rainey loves to talk about suicide. She is a mad, queer care worker serving as the Director of Program Development at Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners. She has focused her career on creating pathways to intersectional, justice-based, emotional support for marginalized communities. Jess centers her lived expertise as an ex-patient and suicide attempt survivor in her work. Her work has been featured in Mad in America, Radical Abolitionist, No Restraints with Rudy Caseres, Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Centers,  Postvention in Action: The International Handbook of Suicide Bereavement, Crisis, and The Suicide Prevention Resource Center. She has been featured in USA Today, People Magazine, and her story can be found on Live Through This. She collaborates on a podcast called Suicide ‘n’ Stuff with Dese’Rae Stage from Live Through This. Jess holds the Lived Experience seat on Colorado’s Suicide Prevention Commission, and was the winner of the 2019 American Association of Suicidology Transforming Lived Experience Award, the 2019 Cookie Gant and Bill Compton  LGBTQIA Leadership Award for Excellence in Promoting Diversity and Inclusion Award, and chairs the Paul G Quinnett Lived Experience Writing Competition. She lives with her partner (Jon) and chihuahua (Chunk), and has a taxidermied two headed duckling (Phil & Lil) for an office mate. 

Pulling Back the Layers: How Racism and Discrimination Impacts Suicide Prevention - Brandon J. Johnson, M.H.S.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown that African American children, ages 5-12, have seen a significant increase in suicide rates over the last few years. This rate has been increasing over the last 15 years, despite the suicide rate decreasing for white children of the same age range. The suicide rate of American Indian/Alaska Native youth under 18 are continuing to see increases as well. Latinx, African-American, and AI/AN people have disproportionately been seeing challenges from COVID-19. Brandon J. Johnson will discuss how specific population-centered issues such as systemic racism, historical trauma, and discrimination frame our work and impact communities of color. Strategies for addressing these barriers to care head-on will be discussed. At the end of this presentation, attendees will be able to:

  • Describe the most recent data trends on increases in suicide deaths and attempts among various populations.
  • Explain implementation strategies for various systems to address the mental health and suicide prevention needs of youth and adults of various ages and backgrounds.
  • Recognize the various social determinants of health that uniquely impact the mental health of people of color.

Brandon J. Johnson, M.H.S. is a tireless advocate for positive mental health and suicide prevention services for youth and adults across the country.  Brandon earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Morgan State University in 2008 and a Master of Health Science Degree from Johns Hopkins University in 2012.  Currently, he serves as a Public Health Advisor at the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the Suicide Prevention Branch at the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS).  In this role, Brandon serves as a Government Project Officer (GPO) for various suicide prevention grant programs that respectively target youth, adults, and health care systems.  Brandon is also the GPO for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) which provides suicide-specific materials, webinars, and training to organizations and communities all over the country working to prevent suicides.  Another highlight of Brandon’s career is his current role as the Co-Lead of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Faith Communities Task Force.  The group works with faith communities all over the nation to equip them with tools and resources to combat the often stigmatized issue of suicide.  Brandon has lead numerous projects to develop resources and materials to specifically prevent suicide among African-American youth.  Previously, Brandon served as the Director of Suicide and Violence Prevention for the State of Maryland where he worked in communities throughout the state to help develop strategies to end violence in various forms, such as community violence and human trafficking.  In this role, Brandon also worked on the MD Governor’s Commission on Suicide Prevention as well as organized the annual Suicide Prevention Conference.

 Live Through This: A Lifetime With Suicidal Thoughts, & Art as Social Justice - Dese’Rae L. Stage

In a series of “snapshots,” Dese’Rae L. Stage shares her experiences with suicidal thoughts (and sometimes more) over the course of her lifetime. She covers family dynamics and the teenage years—the difficult transition from middle to high school, questioning her sexuality; an abusive relationship; divorce; infertility; and how suicidal thoughts cropped up in each. She shows the audience a living portrait reflecting recent CDC findings indicating that suicide is a response to adversity, rather than mental illness as a singular cause. She walks us down the path that led her to Live Through This and brings the voices of attempt survivors with her through portraits, quotations, and video—literally taking the audience into an interview with her. She discusses major themes that crop up in the stories of survivors, along with the impact the project has made in a number of contexts. Stage implores listeners to open their hearts and their minds to those of us who have literally lived through it, and provides incontrovertible evidence that suicide affects all of us. Audiences can expect a talk that will be revealing, often touching, always honest and, ultimately, hopeful. (Funny, too!)

Following the talk, Stage will facilitate a panel discussion with three individuals in Wisconsin who have experienced suicidal thoughts and/or suicide attempts. Their perspectives provide invaluable expertise to stakeholders engaged in this work across various sectors. By listening to and centering the voices of people who have been there, we seek to reframe the narrative around suicide and suicide prevention in our state. At the end of this presentation, attendees will be able to:

  • Empathize with and identify similarities between themselves and those with lived experience of suicidal thoughts and actions.
  • Identify how disclosure of lived experience benefits both the storyteller and the public.
  • Discuss suicide as a complex phenomenon that occurs within and beyond the context of mental illness.

Dese’Rae L. Stage is an artist, mom, suicidologist, activist, and MSW student. She created Live Through This, a documentary-style multimedia storytelling series that aims to reduce prejudice and discrimination against suicide attempt survivors. Live Through This reminds us that suicide is a human issue by elevating and amplifying survivors’ voices through raw, honest stories of survival, and pairing them with portraits—putting faces and names to the statistics that have been the only representation of attempt survivors in the past. Live Through This has received media coverage from the New York Times, People Magazine, CNN, NPR, CBS Evening News, VICE, and more.