Suicide Prevention & PTSD Awareness Conference

Thank you ALL, for a great 2024 Conference! See you in 2025.

If you are interested in presenting or tabling at our 2025 conference, please contact Kaili Benham at or 319-273-5541.

Occurred: Wednesday, March 27, 2024  /  8:00 AM - 3:30 PM
Maucker Union Ballrooms, UNI Campus
Hosted by Student Wellness Services, UNI Veteran Association, & Military and Veteran Student Services

2024 Keynotes and Breakout Topics Included: Research & Science of PTSD, Updates on 988 and Suicide Prevention in Iowa, Counseling Against Lethal Means (CALM) Training*, Trauma Response Yoga (TRY), Interpersonal Violence & PTSD and Suicidality, QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) Suicide Prevention Training, Criminalization of Mental Health, Ending the Silence with NAMI, Intersectionality & Mental Health, and more to come!

2024 Agenda

Screenshot of agenda


Topic: Science and Effects of PTSD

Matthew L. Vasquez, PhD, LMSW

Dr. Vasquez's current area of research focuses on the effects of body-based interventions (e.g., Tai Chi, Trauma-Sensitive Yoga) on trauma and mental health, along with the evaluation of affiliative, body-based interventions in school settings (e.g., Rainbowdance and Kinnect). His other research interests include examining the benefits of infusing trauma-informed care practices in residential treatment facilities, in-patient mental health units, and school-based curriculums, along with how to effectively educate social workers on the salient brain-based neurological aspects of trauma and trauma-informed care.
As a clinician, Dr. Vasquez uses an integrated approach to the treatment of trauma that utilizes approaches from body-centered and sensorimotor psychotherapy, somatic experiencing, EMDR, along with gestalt and psychoanalytic perspectives. Dr. Vasquez currently works as a consultant for Pathways Behavioral Services of Waterloo, Iowa, the Child Welfare Training Academy of Iowa, Midwest Trauma Services Network of Hubbard, Nebraska, and the International Trauma Center of Boston, Massachusetts.  

Dr. Vasquez
Iowa Department of Health & Human Services: 988 & Suicide Prevention in Iowa

Julie Mass, MSW, Iowa's Suicide Prevention Director

This presentation will provide information about Iowa’s implementation of 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and suicide prevention efforts. We will focus on 988 crisis services including how to access 988, what to expect when reaching out to 988, and connection to Iowa’s array of crisis services. We will also be providing information on Iowa’s suicide prevention initiatives and best practices. Participants will gain a basic understanding of 988 implementation in Iowa, and become familiar with Iowa’s crisis services and suicide prevention initiatives.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

2024 Presenter Bio's

Lori Reynolds, LISW

Lori Reynolds, LISW, has been a provider of Mental Health services since graduating with an MSW from the University of Iowa in 1993. She was independently licensed in 1995. For the first 14 years of her career, she worked in Community Mental Health as a psychotherapist, first with children and adolescents before changing to strictly adult care in 2003. VA-Central Iowa Health Care System has employed Lori since August of 2007. She initially provided social work services in an acute inpatient psychiatric setting. She moved to providing outpatient psychotherapy in 2013. Currently, she holds the position of Community Engagement and Partnership Coordinator. This position was created because every day, we lose 20 Veterans and Service Members to suicide. Of the 20, only 6 are involved in VA care. The VA is taking a public health approach to suicide prevention in an effort to reduce not only suicide in Veterans but non-veterans as well. Education is an essential part of her mission. She is a trainer for VA SAVE, CALM, Adult Mental Health First Aid, Veterans in Crisis: Mental Health, and Suicide Prevention.

Tony Thompson, Sheriff of Black Hawk County

Sheriff Tony Thompson took office January 1, 2009, and was re-elected in November of
2012 with nearly 70% of the vote, and ran unopposed in 2016. He ran again contested
in 2020 and won again by nearly 70% of the vote, and this will be his last term in office.
He joined the US Army as a military police officer in December of 1988 and retired from
the Iowa Army National Guard with just over 21 years following his election as
Sheriff. His career with the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office began in March of 1994
and he has worked in the Jail, Special Services, and Patrol Divisions. His prior
assignments include: Drug Education Officer, Community Services Coordinator,
Computer Crimes Investigator, Patrol Officer, Public Information Officer, and SWAT
Team leader before taking command of the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office. He
lives with his family on a hobby farm in rural Cedar Falls.
Sheriff Thompson is known statewide for his mental health advocacy and diversion
efforts from the criminal justice system. He served on the Complex Mental Health
Needs Subcommittee for the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services and
helped frame the mental health redesign legislation in 2012. He has also served on the
state’s Public Safety Advisory Board, Iowa’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning
Advisory Council. He is the immediate past state president of the Iowa State Sheriffs’
and Deputies’ Association and continues to serve on several local boards, committees, and councils, including the steering committee for their own county Crisis Stabilization and Access Center.
Sheriff Thompson also teaches Criminal Justice oriented classes for Upper Iowa
University, Des Moines Area Community College, the University of Northern Iowa, and
Simpson College as an adjunct professor.

Luba Bijelic, MA, LMHC, NCC

President | CEO| Clinical Director
Bijelic Counseling and Consulting Services, LLC

Luba Bijelic is a licensed mental health counselor with a Master of Arts in Mental Health
Counseling from the University of Northern Iowa. Luba works with individuals struggling with
depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, and other mental health issues. She is passionate about
helping clients work through difficult emotions and find ways to cope with life stressors.
Luba is dedicated to providing a safe and supportive environment where clients can explore
their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. With a focus on building a trusting relationship, she
utilizes evidence-based therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, solution-focused, and
trauma-informed therapy. Luba enjoys helping clients reach their goals and achieve personal

Ryan Nesbit

Co-founder and Co-Director of the nonprofit organization Alive and Running Iowa, 501(C)(3), Ryan Nesbit, is dedicated to making an impact through education and helping save lives. Trained to facilitate QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer), and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, Ryan also belongs to the Cedar Valley Coalition for Suicide Prevention and Support.

In 2021, Ryan and Troy won the MercyOne "Heroes Among Us" award for serving as "Community Service Heroes." According to MercyOne, "a hero is an ordinary person who has done something extraordinary to benefit others. They have gone beyond their moral duty to ensure the well-being of others or shown great compassion and courage."

In 2022, Alive and Running received the Gerard Circle Award from the Allen Foundation. Qualification for the award included a lifetime of giving of $10,000 or more to the Allen Foundation. 
Check out their website at

Gage De La Cruz

Gage De La Cruz is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of Northern Iowa. Prior to joining UNI, he earned his B.A. in psychology from Dartmouth College. During his time at Dartmouth, Gage was awarded the M.R. Robinson Grant, allowing him to work at the Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon, New Hampshire. In this role, he enriched in-class instruction and provided individualized support services to students who had previously faced barriers to attending standard high school. After completing his undergraduate studies, Gage transitioned to a teaching position at the Brooke Charter School in East Boston,  Massachusetts. Working collaboratively with a diverse team of educators, he taught 4th-grade general education classes and implemented social and emotional learning lessons. These experiences fueled his passion for aiding individuals in navigating mental health challenges and promoting overall well-being. Motivated by this newfound passion, Gage made the decision to return to academia to pursue his master’s degree. Currently serving as a Graduate Assistant for both the counseling center and suicide prevention teams at UNI, he takes a leading role in conducting various mental health and suicide prevention trainings on campus. Notably, Gage facilitates VAR, QPR, and men and mental health sessions. In addition to his academic pursuits, Gage, who grapples with a persistent mental illness himself, emphasizes the importance of mental health education. He firmly believes in the significance of reducing stigma, fostering hope, and equipping individuals to assist others, drawing from his own experiences of receiving support over the years. His current focus in the realm of suicide prevention revolves around intersectionality, specifically addressing the mental health needs of men.

Sarah J. Schwartz, LISW 

Currently, Sarah works as a social worker for the Iowa City VA Health Care System and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. As a Local Recovery Coordinator, she is in a cross-cutting leadership position that sustains the implementation of recovery principles and recovery-oriented services in mental health provided at all points of service throughout the health care system. She also provides individual and group therapies, including ACT, full-model DBT(consultation, skills group, individual and phone coaching), and DBT-PE. Proficient in telehealth provision and a full range of mental health services. Sarah is also required to establish and engage in the community to offer outreach opportunities and care to Veterans, such as by assisting in the development and implementation of a one-hour series self-care workshop in collaboration with the University of Iowa College of Education, I-SERVE. She helped to organize and moderated the 2021 VISN 23 Midwest Health Care Network Mental Health Summit, and is a consultant to Peer Specialists and Vet Centers. 

Holly Wasion, LISW

Holly Wasion has ten years of social work experience in multiple areas, including aging, case management, discharge planning, medical social work, and intimate partner violence. Currently, she works as a full-time Medical Social Worker in the Emergency room at the Iowa City VA Medical Center, completing psychosocial assessments and working with crisis intervention.

NAMI Presenters: Lisa King and Kara Jones

Lisa King has been delivering Ending the Silence presentations since 2019.  She has a personal and unique perspective on mental illness and does a wonderful at connecting with participants.  

Kara Jones, who identifies as a peer (person with lived experience), has been sharing her story since 2021.  She has always shared her story with genuine authenticity. Her story is very impactful and gives listeners an inside perspective on how one can overcome certain obstacles and still live a good life.  

K-9 Mary & Deputy Karla

Deputy Karla Altenbaumer has been with the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office for 10 years. Currently, she is assigned to 1st Shift Patrol and is the Community Engagment Officer, K-9 Handler, and the Peer Support Team Coordinator. Deputy Altenbuamer also teaches Defensive, Tactics, CPR, Mental Health First Aid, and is a member of the Honor Guard. With many years of experience with mental health crises, she is passionate about changing the stima that goes with mental health. 

K9 Mary is a pure bred black lab that was raised and trained in New York by a non-profit organization called Puppies Behind Bars.  Her role as a K9 is Officer Wellness, Community Engagement, and Crisis Response.  She is unique in that she is not the "typical" K9 you hear about in Law Enforcement.  She will assist with mental health calls, crisis events both big and small.  She also assist with Officer Wellness by being around the Sheriff's Office and available to be petted, loved on, etc.

This conference and materials are possible and funded [in part] under grant number 1H79SM086381-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of CMHS, SAMHSA, or HHS; nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.”