2018 Symposium Speaker Bios

John Halligan
Founder, Ryan's Story Presentation LTD 

On October 7th, 2003, Mr. Halligan lost his 13-year- old son, Ryan, to suicide.  It was revealed in greater detail, after Ryan’s death, that he was ridiculed and humiliated by his  peers  at  his  middle  school  in Vermont and online.  Just a few months after Ryan’s death, Mr. Halligan spearheaded the Vermont Bullying Prevention law in 2004, in honor of his son Ryan.   He also led the passing of a law in 2006 which requires education about suicide prevention in public schools.

Mr. Halligan has made it his life’s work to spread the need for awareness and prevention of  bullying, cyberbullying, and teen suicide- not only in the US, but in Canada and Latin America.  He and his wife, Kelly, have   appeared   on   several   national   TV programs, including Oprah, Primetime with Diane Sawyer, and PBS Frontline.  Mr. Halligan has spoken to over 1800 schools spreading his message of hope and kindness.  He is here to share Ryan’s Story with us today.




James Wright, LCPC

James Wright, LCPC, is a Public Health Advisor in the Suicide Prevention Branch, Center for Mental Health Services, at SAMHSA.  Mr. Wright serves as the Government Project Officer for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Suicide Prevention Resource Center, National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and Crisis Center Follow Up grants.  Mr. Wright also represents the Center for Mental Health Services in Health Information Technology, to include advances in mobile behavioral health and mobile application development. He represented SAMHSA on the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Task Force for Crisis Services and on the Juvenile Justice Task Force. He is also a Government Project Officer for states receiving Garrett Lee Smith youth suicide prevention grant funds to provide suicide prevention screening, training, awareness and outreach across the U.S. Mr. Wright represents SAMHSA on several federal committees, some of which include the Editorial Board for Stopbullying.gov, the Federal Partners on Bullying Prevention, the Veterans Administration Clinical Advisory Board and the Federal Interagency Committee on Traumatic Brain Injury.




Thomas Delaney, PhD

Dr. Tom Delaney is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics Vermont Child Health Improvement Program, at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine. He earned MA and PhD degrees in psychology from the University of Denver, where he studied neuro-psychological functioning in children and youth. Since 2009, he has conducted a variety of program evaluations of mental health, suicide prevention and substance abuse treatment projects. His interests in suicide prevention include suicide postvention, assessing the effectiveness of different prevention training approaches, and evaluating the Zero Suicide approach to systems change. Tom is an instructor in the medical and graduate public health education programs at UVM, where he has developed and taught courses on research methods and statistical analysis.





JoEllen Tarallo, EdD, MCHES, FASHA

Dr. JoEllen Tarallo is Executive Director of the Center for Health and Learning (CHL), a comprehensive health promotion organization, and Director of the VT Suicide Prevention Center (VT-SPC), a public-private partnership with Vermont Department of Mental Health and numerous other partners. (www.vtspc.org). The VT-SPC was established to guide and sustain suicide prevention efforts in Vermont and to serve as a resource for data, information, resources and collaboration. Under her leadership CHL developed the Umatter for Schools training, designated as a national Best Practice program, and the Umatter for Communities training for community professionals, Umatter YYA Mental Health Wellness Promotion and Community Action, and Umatter public information. This includes the www.umatterucangethelp.com website; an award winning youth website, aimed at promoting positive mental health and help seeking. Umatter training includes Gatekeeper training, professional and organizational protocol development, Staff and Community Awareness and instruction of the Lifelines curriculum. Dr. Tarallo is a state and nationally licensed health educator, trainer, school administrator, program developer and project manager, who works at the crossroads of education and public health, including service at the local, state, national and international levels.  She has received distinguished professional awards from the American School Health Association, VT Association for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance, and Prevention Works VT.


Robert Althoff, MD, PhD

Dr. Althoff is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology at the University of Vermont.  With a background in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral genetics,  Dr. Althoff studies self-regulation in childhood.  He and his colleagues have demonstrated that children with problems in self-regulation go on to have severe problems in adulthood.  By characterizing these children as having profound problems with attention, mood swings, and aggression, his research aims to identify modifiable genetic and environmental factors to reduce depression, personality disorders, and substance use in adolescence and adulthood.  Most recently, he has been examining the metabolic consequences of impaired self-regulation and possible underlying environmental, genetic, psychophysiological and epigenetic mechanisms.  He is the Division Director of the Adirondack Division of UVM Psychiatry in Plattsburgh, NY and is the Associate Editor for JAACAP, the leading journal in child and adolescent psychiatry.



Sarah A. Arias, PhD

Dr. Arias is an Assistant Professor (Research) in the Psychosocial Research Program at Butler Hospital, with a faculty appointment in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Her research focuses on suicide prevention and intervention. Currently, she is working on studies examining interventions for targeting suicide risk post-hospital discharge and post-jail release. Her recent research also includes using electronic medical record data to improve detection and monitoring of suicide risk.




Beatrice Birch

For 35 years, Beatrice Birch, initiator of Inner Fire, worked as a Hauschka Artistic therapist in private practice, integrative clinics, and inspiring initiatives in England, Holland and the USA where the whole human being of body, soul and spirit was recognized and appreciated in the healing process.  She has lectured and taught as far afield as Taiwan.  Her passionate belief in both the creative spirit within everyone and the importance of choice along with her love and interest in the human being has taken her also into prisons where she has volunteered for many years offering soul support through Alternatives to Violence work and watercolor painting.





Mitzi Bockmann

Mitzi is a Vermont and NYC based certified life coach who works exclusively with women. Since 2015 she has been involved in the NAMI "In Our Own Voice Program" in VT, NYC and NH. Sharing her story of living with mental illness to help reduce stigma and educate others is her life's work and she will continue to do it as long as she is able.






Kate Comtois, PhD, MPH

Kate is Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington.  Dr. Comtois' research goal is to give suicidal clients and their clinicians their best chance to succeed at treatment and life.  She has been working in the area of health services, treatment development, and clinical trials research to prevent suicide for over 25 years.  Dr. Comtois has developed and adapted interventions to improve care and clinician willingness to work with suicidal patients including DBT, Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS), ring contacts via text message, and Preventing Addition Related Suicide (PARS).



Debby Haskins, MS,LADC

Debby is a Suicide Prevention Specialist/Trainer with the Center for Health and Learning and teaches the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention, and the Injury, Violence Prevention online courses.  She is the former Executive Director of the Association of Student Assistance Professionals of Vermont and has a private practice in Central Vermont.  Debby has been in the substance abuse field for over 30 years.  Her passion is working with adolescents and their families in breaking the cycle of addiction, and presenting information in an experiential way.


Kristy Hommel

As a 34 year old woman recently diagnosed with Borderline Personality, and having lived with mental illness since a young age, Kristy is happy to share her journey to a stable life living in recovery after trying to take her own life two years ago.  She is a former first grade teacher currently in marketing and photography.  She has made a loving home with a 4-month old and his father, whom she loves dearly.  She is also a recovering addict, clean and sober for almost two years.  Speaking about the awareness and prevention of suicide is a passion of hers.  She hopes to help at least one person today by telling her story.




Adam Lesser, LCSW

Adam Lesser is a licensed clinical social worker, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatric Social Work in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Deputy Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.  He is responsible for all suicide prevention activities related to public health including the international dissemination and training for the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS).  He has published, presented internationally and consulted to state and local governments on best practices for suicide risk identification and prevention.  His work has been featured in Social Work Today Magazine and in Atlanta National Public Radio, CNN-espanol, Univision and other local print and television media outlets.  



Meaghan McFadden, MSW

Meaghan is a clinical social worker assigned full time to a primary care practice through a unique partnership between Northwestern Counseling & Support Services and Northwestern Medical Center.  Meaghan is part of a team delivering integrated health services.







Alison Miley, MSW

Alison is a SASH Clinican for the Howard Center, providing therapeutic support in the homes of seniors residing at two Cathedral Square SASH sites including individual and couples counseling, group programs aimed at promoting emotional wellness, care coordination, consultation, staff education, and referrals. Utilizing a mental health lens, Alison works with SASH staff on suicide prevention and intervention efforts using individual, team, and group based methods, and assisted in a postvention response to a death by suicide at another senior housing site. Alison also works as a substitute triage clinician with First Call for Chittenden County, where she provides phone-based assessment, intervention, support, care coordination, referrals and follow-up for youth and adults who are experiencing a mental health emergency, emotional distress, or are in a self-defined crisis. ​



Peter D. Mills, PhD, MS

Peter Mills, PhD, MS has worked as a Psychologist in the VA in White River Junction VT since 1994.  He is currently the Director of the VA National Center for Patient Safety Field Office.  He joined the National Center for Patient Safety in 2002 and has focused on suicide prevention, patient safety improvement and measuring patient safety in VA.  Prior to joining the NCPS he was the Associate Director of the VISN 1 Patient Safety Center of Inquiry and directed several national medical safety improvement projects within the VA system.  From 1994 to 1999 he served as the director of the Evaluation and Brief Treatment of PTSD Unit, and the Director of the PTSD service.  He is also currently the Chair of the Ethics Committee and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.  He conducts research in patient safety, suicide prevention and quality improvement.



Kelly Posner, PhD

Dr. Posner is a clinical professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.  She is founder and principal investigator of the Columbia Lighthouse Project.  She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Yeshiva University and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Brown University.  Dr. Posner's work, according to the President of the American Psychiatric Association, "could be seen as really a watershed moment, like the introduction of antibiotics."  The U.S. Department of Defense called her work "nothing short of a miracle" and stated that "her effective model of improving the world will help propel us closer to a world without suicide".  The CDC noted that her work is "changing the paradigm in suicide risk assessment in the US and worldwide".  Her research is included in the compendium of the most important research in the history of the study of suicide.  Dr. Posner's work has been noted in a keynote speech at the White House, presented to Congress and a recent Senate forum on school safety.  She is about to receive the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service, the highest level of award a civilian can get for impacting the nation.




Karlo Salminen

Karlo has more than 10 years involvement with mental health.  He and his late-wife, Carolyn, started a support group for families dealing with mental illness five years ago.  They adopted their daughter Anna & then Matti, each only two weeks old.  Karlo had two "dream" careers:  teaching and coaching at the Georgia, VT School, and radio broadcasting.  He lives in Milton, VT with his dog, Roo.



Matti Salminen

Matti has found the inspiration to take an experience with madness and use it to write a book, found a philosophical school in the martial arts, and take on leadership responsibilities in the mad pride movement.  His most sincere form of creative expression comes in writing sidewalk chalk haikus in Brattleboro.  







Meghan Snitkin, LICSW

Meghan is a clinical social worker with the White River Junction Vermont Department of Veterans Affairs.  She has been with the VA for over six years.  Her most recent work has focused on mental health and suicide prevention.  She is currently the White River Junction VA Medical Center's VA's Suicide Prevention Coordinator.  



Win Turner, PhD, LADC

As Project Director of Vermont SBIRT, Dr. Turner oversees a 5-year $10 million SBIRT grant delivering integrated behavioral services to 110,000 patients throughout Vermont across 18 medical settings.  He is also Partner in the Center for Behavioral Health Integration (C4BHI), providing consultation services throughout North America to assist in the development, training, evaluation, supervision and implementation of evidenced based treatment interventions.  He is a Clinical Instructor at the Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare Health Sciences Center.