Reflections on AAS National Conference – 2019

This years AAS National Conference, (#aas2019) with a combination of plenary and break-out sessions, was a huge success thanks to the many presenters and participants who converged in Denver.  Thank you to the American Association of Suicidology for organizing this event, and the many sponsors who made this possible. The conference included presentations from a variety of academic and professional disciplines, including anthropology, biology, behavioral economics, philosophy, psychiatry, psychology, public health, social work, sociology, theology/religion, media and entertainment, and evolutionary theory.  Two participants, Dr. Debra A. Lopez, a Board Certified Psychiatrist, a survivor of family loss, and is a VTSPC Coalition member, and Julia Hampton, Health Program Specialist at Vermont Suicide Prevention Coalition, and Program Specialist and Umatter Trainer at CHL, gave their reflections on the conference.


From Dr. Debra Lopez:

This is my third year as an AAS member and attendee of the AAS Conference.  2019 was the 52nd AAS annual meeting.

Clearly great effort and thought, by many people, goes into planning & organizing this complex meeting.  The structure includes large-group presentations, the Plenaries, as well as smaller format, concurrent sessions held throughout the conference that are themed along the lines of interest groups.  For example, these “tracks” include Clinical, Research, Public Policy/ State Programs, Lived Experience, Suicide Survivor/Grief , Veterans and Veteran Families, and Crisis Centers. This allows attendees to follow themes or subjects of particular interest to them.

In addition to the regular (packed) conference schedule, which runs Thursday through Saturday, there are Pre-Conference Workshops that provide specific trainings and in-depth study.  


This year I attended the following programs:

Tuesday Pre-conference:  

Crisis Response Planning Training, sponsored by the National Center for Veteran Studies.  This was an excellent training, taught by one of the best teachers I have ever worked with, Craig Bryan, Ph.D.*, along with his colleague David Rosek, Ph.D.  Their approach to working with suicidal veterans is evidence-based and top-notch. The training included theoretical material, video demonstrations of technical aspects or the approach, and role-play practice.  The training also included a video demonstration on Access to Lethal Means with Veterans, based on a Motivational Interviewing model.  

The full-day training was free of charge (thanks to philanthropic support from Boeing Corp.) and is well worth attending.  

*Let’s get Craig Bryan, PhD. to Vermont for future trainings!


Wednesday Pre-Conference:

Improving State Suicide Prevention Infrastructure: A State Coordinator Gathering.

I attended this meeting with JoEllen Tarallo (CHL) and Jessica Bernard (DMH).   The Suicide Prevention Resource Center sponsored the workshop and plans to introduce a set of principles and tools for states, to be published this summer—more to come on this important initiative.

Notable presentations:

My top presentations were as follows:

The Social Roots of Adolescent Suicide Clusters, by Anna S. Mueller, Ph.D., University of Chicago.  Her work can be found at:

  • Expanding Perspectives of the Best and Worst of Human Behavior, by Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D. His book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, is worth checking out.  
  • David Jobes, Ph.D. – Thought Leader presentation.  Dr. Jobes is a clinician-researcher, academic, and international leader in suicidology.  His CAMS (Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicide) treatment model is one of the most thoroughly studied, evidence-based treatment approaches available.
  • Note:  Dr. Jobes will be the featured speaker at UVMMC Psychiatry Grand Rounds on September 6, 2019, in Burlington.
  • Implementation of the Zero Suicide Model – Lessons Learned in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  – Excellent presentation by clinicians who have integrated Zero Suicide practices and protocols into 24 clinics in their health system.
  • Saturday – Suicide Loss Survivors programming.  Impressive full-day program for those who have experienced the loss of a loved-one to suicide.  Perhaps 150 people attended this program.


From Julia Hampton:

This was my first time attending the AAS Conference and I was impressed with the dedication of so many people around innovative approaches to suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.  I attended workshops mainly focused on to youth suicide prevention and postvention and walked away with up-to-date research and resources to infuse into our Umatter trainings.

I was also struck by the intelligent dialogue created in “thought sessions” where key leaders in the field spoke on two sides of an issue.  I attended two of these style presentations, one was titled “What do We Mean by ‘Suicide is Preventable?’” and the second was “Extreme Risk Protection Order: A New Tool for Suicide Prevention.”  I came away with a deeper understanding of the topics and the issues surrounding them.

Here are some resources I found particularly interesting:


Peer Support for Youth

Peer Support though talk, text, or chat:

I had the pleasure of meeting two youth who are trained to talk with teens that call or text when they are in distress.  These youth are well trained and supported by adult professionals to do this work! They are in Oregon though, so teens on the East coast can only get them live from 7pm-12am (adults will answer the line at other times).  

Teen Talk is an iPhone app where youth can vent, share, and get support from a trained teen!  Download the app at

Support for Suicide Caregivers

This is an innovative site created by two social workers for Suicide Caregivers, who they define as “people who support someone experiencing thoughts of suicide.”  They have this adorable porcupine character that immediately provides a sense of comfort in its cuteness. They chose the porcupine specifically and you can read more about why on their website.

The content is well thought out and includes quizzes, short videos, and helpful information.   The information is divided into five learning modules:

  1. Learn about Suicide
  2. Process Your Feelings
  3. Adapt to Change
  4. Set Safe Boundaries
  5. Talk about Suicide

I encourage anyone who is curious or actively caring for someone who has thoughts of suicide to visit this site:

Cultural Considerations

THRIVE is a suicide prevention project that stands for Tribal Health – Reaching out InVolves Everyone.  This organization serves Northwest Tribes, however, we can learn from their model of working with American Indians and Alaska Natives.  One particular brochure that caught my eye, was entitled “Two Spirit Loved & Accepted: #WeNeedYouHere.”

The brochure goes on to define “Two Spirit” and provide very practical ways to love and accept LBGTQ2S people:

“Two Spirit is a contemporary term that refers to current and historical LGBTQ people, whose individual spirit blends male and female identities.  Most tribes have unique terms in their language and roles for Two Spirit people.

Honor LGBTQ2S People:

  • Respect the names and pronouns that people use to identify themselves.
  • Know that family love, support and acceptance helps protect all people from suicide.
  • Let the person know indirectly, or directly, that you are open to hearing about their lives and identity.
  • Help connect people to their tribal culture and history around gender and identity.
  • Respect the persons desired level of privacy.
  • Adopt a no tolerance response to bullying and harassment.”



Support for Suicidal Individuals on Social and Digital Media

This is the title of a resource produced by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and SAMHSA to give anyone managing a digital community the tools to communicate with someone who shows signs of suicide.  They used actual comments made on line and provide guidance on how to respond and refer people to professional resources.

You can download this free resource here:

For more information about the AAS National Conference visit

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