Help, Hope & Action: Raising awareness around suicide prevention

Suicide is a serious public health problem nationwide. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds and 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States. In 2020 alone, there were 45,979 deaths by suicide. This is about one death every 11 minutes.

According to UnitedHealth Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings 2021 Annual Report, Nevada ranks 50th among states in behavioral health, 46th in frequent mental distress, 48th in non-medical drug use and 40th in suicide.

Suicide has a far-reaching impact that goes beyond an immediate family or friend experience. It may cause serious emotional, physical and even economic impact, with long-term effects.

Feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated these outcomes and put further strain on people’s mental health.

Raising awareness and promoting suicide prevention in an open forum may help reduce risk factors and increase resiliency in communities. 

Help, Hope & Action: A Suicide Prevention Town Hall is a three-part discussion among behavioral health experts, professionals on the frontlines of supporting those at risk, and those who have been directly impacted by suicide. Recorded live in Las Vegas, Nevada in June 2022, the program is meant to be a resource for those looking for information and education.

Watch the presentations below for a recap of the event.

  • The first panel focuses on the risk, warning signs and most effective interventions related to children, teens and young adults.
  • The second panel discusses many of the reasons behind adult, senior and veteran suicide, how to build resiliency among older age groups, and the value of addressing the threat with loved one head on.
  • The final panel digs into what is being done about these trends and what more needs to happen within health care, communities, and local governments.

Children, teens and young adults panel

Emma White

At 27, Emma White recently joined the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention in Reno, NV. A far cry from where she found herself 12 years ago at the age of 15. Emma had planned to take her life in December due to bullying at school and social media harassment, believing that her life was unworthy and unimportant.

Thankfully, Emma is alive today and sharing her story in the hopes of saving others from making a permanent decision to solve a temporary problem. Through her organization, “Life is Worth It” and her book, “It’s Not OK, But It Will Be: How I Survived Suicidal Depression and You Can, Too,” Emma is on a mission to help others recognize their worth, heal their trauma and live their best life. 

Solomon Thomas and Martha Thomas

Solomon Thomas is a defensive lineman, previously with the Las Vegas Raiders and moving to the New York Jets this fall. His mother is a retired middle school teacher. In 2018, their beloved, Ella, Solomon’s sister, died by suicide at the age of 24, after feeling depressed for many years.

After Ella’s death, the family established The Defensive Line Foundation to help build a world in which no young person of color dies by suicide. The Thomases believe that by sharing their family’s lived experience, they can help reduce stigma and create connections that save young lives.

Dr. Debra Katz — senior national medical director for Optum

Dr. Debra Katz focuses on child and adolescent psychiatry and mental health care for special populations. She has expertise around providing health care to individuals with autism spectrum disorder and serious mental illness.

Prior to taking on her current role, Dr. Katz served as regional medical director for Optum’s public sector behavioral health programs managed out of the Houston Care Advocacy Center. She has also worked as the medical director for Child and Adolescent Services at the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority (MHMRA) of Harris County, TX.

Adults, seniors and veterans panel

Rachel Rosensteel — associate director of Health Equity, Health Plan of Nevada Community & State, Medicaid Program

Rachel works to ensure that all members of the health plan’s Medicaid program have access to the services and resources they need. Prior to taking on this responsibility, Rachel’s passion had been identifying and supporting the physical and behavioral health needs of those who experience homelessness in Reno and recently incarcerated populations.

Rachel is currently pursuing a Ph. D in Public Health, with a specialization in community health. She can share, through her daily career experience, the significant challenges that impact those in the Medicaid population due to homelessness, issues related to mental health, financial struggles, loneliness and the feeling of hopelessness that pervades their daily lives.

Michele Freeman — American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Michele Freeman began her law enforcement career in 1992 with the City of Las Vegas (CLV) Department of Public Safety (DPS) as a corrections officer. She served as Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant, and member of the department’s Special Emergency Response Team (SERT), prior to being named deputy chief in 2006. 

She was appointed Chief in 2011 and held the position for almost 10 years prior to her retirement. Through Michele’s perseverance, the department added its first, dedicated, Crisis Intervention Administrator — a trained mental health professional who provides support to the department through education and counsel. Michele earned her Doctor of Public Policy Degree, which focused on suicide awareness and prevention for law enforcement officers.

Dr. Nichole Bauknight-Boles — senior medical director, Health Plan of Nevada Behavioral Health

A double-boarded psychiatrist with certifications in General Adult Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with nearly 20 years of post-fellowship work experience, Dr. Bauknight-Boles was recently named a senior medical director at Health Plan of Nevada. Prior to this new role in Nevada, Dr. Bauknight-Boles was southwest regional behavioral health medical director for Optum Behavioral Health. 

Richard Egan – training and outreach facilitator, Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention

Richard Egan is the Southern Nevada Suicide Prevention Training and Outreach Facilitator for Department of Health and Human Services.  Richard served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 26 years and brings to this panel an additional 24 years of experience preventing suicides by utilizing awareness, prevention, and intervention certifications.

Government, health care and support organizations panel

Dr. Laurine Tibaldi – chief medical officer, Health Plan of Nevada

Dr. Laurine Tibaldi’s role for the Nevada market includes oversight of care utilization, inpatient and outpatient case management, quality management and disease management teams. Dr. Tibaldi also serves as chair of the Corporate Medical Affairs Committee for Health Plan of Nevada/Sierra Health and Life and is on the board of directors for Sierra Health and Life.

She is also a member of the UnitedHealthcare Medical Technology Assessment Committee and a delegate to the Nevada State Medical Association. She earned her medical degree from Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine in 1995.

Michele Freeman — American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

(see bio above)

Misty Vaughan Allen, MA — suicide prevention coordinator, Nevada Dept of Health and Human Services, Division of Public & Behavioral Health

Misty Vaughan Allen, MA has served as the suicide prevention coordinator of Nevada in since 2005. Over the past 16 years, much of her work has included working together with local advisory groups and community coalitions, providing oversight and leadership to launch new suicide prevention programs in communities across Nevada. 

Richard Elorreaga — president, Behavioral Health, Health Plan of Nevada/UnitedHealthcare

Rick Elorreaga is responsible for the direction and oversight of the HPN Behavioral Health team. Rick joined the Health Plan Nevada, Behavioral Health Team in August 2021. He previously served as vice president for Optum External Medicaid and Federal Government, responsible for overseeing national public sector and federal government behavioral health operation sites. Since joining UnitedHealth Group in 2003, Rick has held numerous leadership positions. As the vice president for behavioral solutions and vice president of public sector operations, he oversaw Commercial, Employer and Optum-managed publicly funded Behavioral health programs.

Before joining Optum, Rick served as regional care center director at Cigna Behavioral Health and vice president of operations at Aetna and Magellan Behavioral Health. Rick earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of Utah and his Master of Science degree in Social Work from Arizona State University.

If you or someone you care about is having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, help is available 24 hours a day. Call or text 988 anytime for caring support from a trained crisis counselor through the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

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