Our State, Our Wellbeing

Presenters

Stay connected as we continue building this listing of Summit presenters!

Keynote Speakers

Dr. Charlene Wong serves as the Senior Advisor for Health Strategy in the Immediate Office of the Director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this role, she is coordinating a collaborative approach to protecting health that brings public health alongside efforts in health care and social supports. She is focused in the areas of mental health, combatting the opioid epidemic and supporting young families. She previously served as the inaugural Assistant Secretary for Children and Families in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) where she launched a new Division of Child and Family Well-Being in 2022 and oversaw the Division of Early Care and Education. She led cross-Departmental work in child behavioral health, child welfare, nutritional security, and maternal and infant health. In the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Wong served as the Chief Health Policy Officer for COVID-19 at NCDHHS.

Kody H. Kinsley serves as Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services; appointed to the cabinet position by Governor Roy Cooper and unanimously confirmed by the North Carolina Senate.

Secretary Kinsley has identified three priority areas of focus:  Behavioral Health & Resilience, Child & Family Wellbeing, and Building a Strong & Inclusive Workforce. By focusing on these three areas, Secretary Kinsley believes the state can make smart investments that drive health for individuals and value for public resources.

As the COVID-19 Pandemic and national public health emergency conclude, Kinsley and the department have transitioned from emergency response to preparedness. Alongside this transition, Secretary Kinsley advanced the department’s key priorities through the passing of Medicaid Expansion and Governor Cooper’s $1 billion pledge for behavioral health services. The implementation and expansion of Medicaid extends healthcare coverage to previously underserved populations, providing critical access to health services for thousands of North Carolinians. Secretary Kinsley’s accomplishments exemplify his dedication to improving health equity throughout the state. More

Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH is the Assad Meymandi Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also directs the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders. As Chair, Dr. Meltzer-Brody collaborates with UNC Health and the state of North Carolina on broad based initiatives to improve mental health. She is a passionate advocate for innovation and transformation of mental health care. Dr. Meltzer-Brody is an internationally recognized physician-scientist in perinatal depression. Her research investigates the epidemiologic and biological predictors of perinatal depression and innovative treatment approaches (pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic), which have taken her across the globe including to sub-Saharan Africa. She had led the MOMS GENES study—the largest global genetic study of postpartum depression (PPD) using app-based tools. She served as the academic PI for novel psychopharmacologic clinical trials to develop the first FDA approved medication for postpartum depression (brexanolone), and served as an investigator for the newly approved oral drug (zuranolone) for PPD. Dr. Meltzer-Brody has received numerous awards for her work. She was awarded the 2023 NIH Clinical Center Distinguished Clinical Research Scholar and Educator in Residence, named to the 2022 Forbes list of 16 Healthcare Innovators You Should Know, and received the 2020 UNC O Max Gardner award, a UNC System Award (17 universities) for the highest faculty honor. Dr. Meltzer-Brody was ranked in 2021 by Expertscape, as the number one expert in the world for postpartum depression and received the 2019 APA Alexandra Symonds Award in Women’s Mental Health. 

Hosts

Patrick Sullivan is a Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Genetics and Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a Professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. He is a founder and the lead principal investigator of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium as well as a Swedish national complex trait consortium and its extension to Denmark and Norway (focusing on psychiatric disorders). His labs investigate the molecular genetics of schizophrenia, suicide, major depressive disorder (including post-partum depression), and eating disorders. He has an outstanding track record of training post-docs and in advancing them to faculty positions and independent R01 funding. Dr Sullivan has 548 total publications including 485 papers (peer-reviewed: published, in press, or submitted) and 63 other contributions (reviews, editorials, comments, invited manuscripts, or chapters). Google Scholar h-index 164. In the past 10 years, essentially all of his empirical papers have had trainees as co-authors.  

In mid 2022, UNC received a gift from Bill and Dana Starling in memory of their sons who both died by suicide. This gift established the UNC Suicide Prevention Institute. From mid-2022 onward, Dr Sullivan has devoted most of his effort toward suicide prevention. 

Anita Brown-Graham

Anita Brown-Graham is the founder and director of the ncIMPACT Initiative at the UNC School of Government. This initiative seeks to expand the School’s capacity to work with public officials on complex policy issues including economic mobility, the expansion of prekindergarten, and extending the labor pool. In 2020, she was named the Gladys Hall Coates Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government at the School.

Anita previously taught at the School from 1994 to 2006, specializing in governmental liability and economic development aimed at revitalizing communities. Anita served as director of the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) at NC State University from 2007-2016, where she led efforts to build North Carolina’s capacity for economic development and prosperity, working with business, government, and higher education leaders from across the state.

Speakers

Senator Gale Adcock is a nationally certified family nurse practitioner who spent 29 years in family practice providing primary care to infants, children, and adults. She is serving her first term in the Senate after 8 years in the House and 7 years on the Cary Town Council. 

Lynn Allen joined the NAMI North Carolina team in April 2024. Before coming to NAMI, she worked with HopeLine in several roles, including Program Director. She is certified in CALM (Counseling on Access to Lethal Means) training, and has served as a crisis line advocate with over 3000 hours of hotline experience. Her career in mental health advocacy began in 2018 after 20 years in veterinary medicine. Lynn saw a need to protect her own mental health as well as advocate for others and support them through their recovery journeys. She is especially passionate about suicide prevention and education, and believes that active listening and prevention strategies are crucial to helping others struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. She has lived experience as both a peer and a family member of individuals living with mental illness. Lynn has a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from UNC-Pembroke. When not at work, she enjoys spending time with her daughter, family, and her dog Harris. She loves watching NC State sports and New England Patriots football, and visiting the beach and mountains.

Dr. Anna Bauer is an Assistant Professor in the UNC Department of Psychiatry and received both her PhD in Epidemiology and MPH in Maternal and Child Health from the Gillings School of Global Public Health. As an epidemiologist, her research focuses on how social, environmental, and genetic factors contribute to mental illness throughout the lifecourse, particularly at critical developmental stages. She is an active member of the UNC Suicide Prevention Institute, where she conducts efforts to integrate demographic, health, education, vital records, and environmental data to understand the epidemiology of suicide in North Carolina and support implementation and evaluation of interventions. In this role, she collaborates with partners at the Injury and Violence Prevention Branch of NC DHHS to align with the priorities of the North Carolina Suicide Prevention Action Plan. Dr. Bauer grew up in NC, and she is passionate about improving wellbeing for all North Carolinians. 

 

Currently in his third term as North Carolina State Senator of District 12, representing Harnett, Lee, and Sampson counties, Senator Burgin is President/Owner of C&D Insurance and Insurance Network Group, Chairman of the Board of New Horizon Insurance Group, and President of B.C. Property Inc. He is also a partner of John Hiester Automotive, which owns Chevrolet and Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealerships. Senator Burgin chairs the Senate Health Care, Appropriations on Health and Human Services, and the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services. 

Beth Ford leads TC STRONG with an innovative, audacious spirit and many hats: Director, social + network communications, resource development, YMHFA, teenMHFA, & ASIST instructor, building + nurturing relationships, strategic big-picture visioning – all colored with tones of playfulness, empathy, & connectedness. At her core she believes we are better & go further together, that we each can play a small (or large!) part of making the world easier & safer for all if we choose. With a BS in Recreation Management & (accidental) minor in Psychology from Florida State University, Beth has worked over the past 20 years with youth & families in a variety of roles, most with a common theme of mental, emotional, & social well-being.

Amelia DeFosset leads the Evaluation team in Abacus Evaluation. Previously, she led the Health Equity and Evaluation Lab within the Center for Health Equity Research and was the Chief of Health and Policy Assessment with the Angeles County Department of Public Health. DeFosset earned her MPH from University of California, Los Angeles with a concentration in community health sciences. She has 10 years of experience in using evaluation, organizational learning, and quality improvement to examine and address health disparities. She has used community-engaged and systems-informed approaches to evaluate initiatives within community, clinical, education, and justice system contexts. She is passionate about helping diverse teams collect, integrate, and interpret mixed methods data to solve hard problems, make better decisions, and ultimately improve wellbeing. 

In addition to her role at the state as a program consultant, Ms. Miller had been a board member with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention-NC. 

Dr. Brandy Harrell is the Chief of Staff for the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation, a nonprofit organization that develops and supports innovative, community-driven partnerships that are equity-centered, and provide solutions to improve the overall health and well-being of all North Carolinians. Dr. Harrell has extensive experience and training in Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder treatment. Dr. Harrell is also an educator who exemplifies a high degree of enthusiasm and strong dedication to the total development of aspiring behavioral health professionals on a collegiate level. 

Dr. Harrell aspires to serve the needs of the rural community as she has published research on the Underutilization of Mental Health services in rural counties. She works diligently to decrease the stigma related to mental health and substance use services. She implemented the integrated health care approach at a rural Federally Qualified Healthcare Center in Eastern North Carolina. Dr. Harrell is the Behavioral Health expert for the National Rural Justice Collaborative and works alongside leaders across the county to increase access to mental health and substance use treatment for justice involved individuals. 

Dr. Harrell is the Mayor Pro-Tem for the Town of Winterville, North Carolina. 

 

Melanie Meeks (she/her/hers) is the Data Coordinator/Program Manager for the HRSA/RCORP Project Office at UNC Health Nash. Melanie holds a BS in Health Education with a minor in Social Sciences. She has been a Robert Wood Johnson Fellow since Spring 2011, a Rural Community Health Leader, and has chaired several advisory boards. Melanie has worked among various multidisciplinary teams across eighteen counties within North Carolina. This work included helping children who have experienced abuse receive services so that they may work through their traumas. Melanie has also worked for NC DHHS. While at NC DHHS/DSS, she worked with all one hundred North Carolina counties and one territory to help Community Child Protection Teams (CCPTs) continue protecting children. Melanie also assisted five Eastern Carolina Child Advocacy Centers in reaching national accreditation when she served as a Regional Director. During her service at NCDHHS, Melanie learned The Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework. Melanie knows that people are resilient when supported and given tools to help them succeed in all areas of their lives. Using parental resilience factors, substance use disorders can be reduced in the lives of youth and adults. 

Melanie is a natural-born advocate who believes everyone deserves to be healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually. She helps her service providers understand that a person’s trauma, struggles, and current place in life is not their destination. “Communities must wrap their arms around their most vulnerable citizens and help them thrive. While stigma is real for individuals, families, and the community, we all can work together to reach our goal of reducing those stigmas and turn it into a positive result that makes us all better humans.”

 

Bettie leads the Village of C.A.R.E. and is a member of the “Our State, Our Wellbeing” program’s Team 11 (Wake and Franklin counties).

 

Andy MacCracken is the inaugural director of the NC Center on the Workforce for Health. In that role, he leads collaborative efforts to develop and deploy statewide strategies that tackle today’s severe health workforce shortages and prepare for the future. Andy joined the Center from the NC Pandemic Recovery Office, where he drove policy and research initiatives and managed $200 million in programs supporting the state’s education, workforce, and health needs. He previously cofounded and served as executive director of a national postsecondary education policy organization. Andy has an MPA and BA, both from American University in Washington, DC. He serves on the boards of directors of the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle and the KJS Legacy Project. 

Jane Ann Miller has a Master of Public Health degree in community mental health administration, a BS in psychology, and fourteen years of experience in community mental health programs. She served primarily as a child mental health case manager in urban areas of Pennsylvania and rural counties in NC. As a case manager, she served high-risk racially diverse children and adults and interfaced with medical providers, schools, court systems, detention centers, mobile crisis, and crisis bed programs Other duties included being a community and state hospital liaison and an outreach therapist. 

Since joining the state’s Division of Public Health’s Injury and Violence Prevention Branch in 2000, she served as the state’s Project Director for the federal youth suicide prevention grant known as Garrett Lee Smith from 2008-2015. Currently, she is the Comprehensive Suicide Prevention Program Manager for the state’s CDC grant. Jane has conducted countless presentations and provided guidance to citizens, professionals and agencies about suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. 

In addition to her role at the state as a program consultant, Ms. Miller had been a board member with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention-NC. 

Dr. Adam Bryant Miller is a licensed clinical psychologist with expertise in child and adolescent suicide risk. His program of research investigates biological and psychological mechanisms linking early childhood adversity exposure with risk for suicide across the child and adolescent developmental period. He has received numerous grants from the National Institute of Mental Health to support his research program. 

Lydia Nichols is the founder of YouthThrive & Integrated Wellness in Cumberland County. She is a member of the “Our State, Our Wellbeing” program’s Team 13.

Justin Oyler is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Vice President of Clinical Affairs at North Carolina’s Community Health Center Association (NCCHCA) – the organization that supports all of the Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) within the state. His prior roles include working with the nations largest behavioral health managed care organization but got his start working various jobs including as an emergency medical technician, a behavioral health specialist for a county run inpatient psychiatric hospital, and as a case manager for transitional aged consumers with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In his current role with NCCHCA, his priority is focusing on promoting evidence-based approaches to the integrated care North Carolina FQHCs are delivering across medical, dental, pharmacy, and behavioral health services.

Timothy Reeder, MD, MPH earned a Medical Degree and residency in Emergency Medicine from Ohio State University. He obtained an MPH the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1998, he joined the Brody School of Medicine at ECU where he is an Associate Professor and Executive Vice Chair in the Department of Emergency Medicine. He is past President of the North Carolina Medical Society. He provides clinical care at ECU Health Medical Center. He was elected to the NC House of Representatives in 2023, representing District 9 in Pitt County. He serves on the Committees for Appropriations, Commerce, Education-Universities, Families, Children and Aging Policy, and Health. 

Dr. Sonyia Richardson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work, Director of the Race and Social Equity Research Academy, and the Founder and Director of the Mental Health Research and Practice Lab at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As a clinical behavioral researcher, her agenda focuses on developing and testing novel interventions aimed at reducing suicide among Black youth. In her lab, she aims to identify and remove barriers to mental health treatment for racially minoritized populations and eliminate resulting disparities through mixed-methods, community-engaged research. As a respected scholar in the field of social work, she has published two co-edited books, produced numerous publications, and received over one million dollars in grant funding. She is a current recipient of a competitive NIMH-funded grant (R34 MH129782) entitled Culturally Adapted – Linking Individuals Needing Care. The research team works with the Black youth and families community to design and test a suicide prevention intervention. 

In addition to her work within academia, Dr. Richardson is the founder and owner of Another Level Counseling and Consultation in Charlotte, North Carolina. For over 17 years, the agency has been instrumental in providing counseling services to primarily Black individuals and families, facilitating corporate and community wellness workshops, and providing consultation services internationally to corporations. Dr. Richardson is engaged with local, state, and national initiatives. As a respected scholar in the field of social work, she was appointed to the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in 2020. In her second appointed term, she is serving as Director of the Wellness Outcomes subcommittee. Additionally, she received the North Carolina National Association of Social Workers Award for the 2021 Social Worker of the Year for her leadership and advocacy efforts. As a respected scholar in the field of social work, she has published two co-edited books, produced numerous publications, and received over two million dollars in grant funding.  

Donna Bass Rosser has been a health education specialist in the Health Education Community Transformation Division within the Durham County Department of Public Health for more than 19 years. Since 2019, Donna’s work has taken on an injury prevention focus to include domestic violence, harm reduction, suicide, and safe firearm storage. 

Donna leads the Durham County Firearm Injury Prevention Partnership, formerly the Durham County Gun Safety Team, coordinating and facilitating meetings, events and speaking engagements. She also tracks the distribution of gun locks and participation at planned outreach events. Trained to plan, develop, implement, and evaluate educational activities, Donna follows local trends and establishes connections and relationships with Durham residents and community organizations. 

Lisa de Saxe Zerden is the Deputy Director of the UNC-Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center (BHWRC), funded jointly by the Substance Use Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Health Resources Service Administration (HRSA). Dr. Zerden is a tenured Associate Professor at the UNC-CH School of Social Work. She currently serves as the Social Work Director of Interprofessional Education and Practice. Prior to the BHWRC, Dr. Zerden served as the Senior Associate Dean for MSW Education for nearly seven years. She received her MSW from the University of California at Los Angeles and her PhD in Sociology and Social Work from Boston University. 

What is Our State, Our Wellbeing?

Our State, Our Wellbeing is a 12-month initiative to identify and implement strategies to improve mental health and reduce the number of suicides in North Carolina, launched by Carolina Across 100 and the UNC Suicide Prevention Institute

Understanding Suicide Prevention in NC

Our conversations and research about suicide prevention work led Carolina Across 100 and the UNC Suicide Prevention Instutute to a few clear conclusions. First, the issues of suicide and mental health are shared across the state, but they affect every community differently. In turn, every community brings different assets, resources, and relationships to this challenge. To address this issue effectively, we need local-level input and context alongside coordinated efforts across state-level partners and systems.

**If you or someone you know are thinking about suicide, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.**