TSPN Staff

Scott Ridgway, MS, Executive Director

Scott Ridgway has served as Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network’s Executive Director since 2001. He works closely with TSPN’s gubernatorially-appointed Advisory Council to implement suicide prevention strategies within the state of Tennessee. He served six years on the Steering Committee for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and he was a member of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention Task Force that created the revised National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

Scott has been recognized for his community service, most recently as NAMI Tennessee’s 2016 Professional of the Year. Other honors include NAMI-Davidson County’s 2014 Community Services Award, the 2011 Community Leadership Award for Tennessee from the Human Rights Campaign, recognition for co-chairing the CASA Red Shoe Party in 2010 and 2011, the 2006 Eli Lilly Inc., “Heroes in the Fight” Individual Community Supporter Award, the 2005 I.C. Hope Award, inclusion in the Tennessean’s “Top 40 under 40 Young Leaders in Middle Tennessee”, and TCCY Mid-Cumberland Regional Child Advocate of the Year (twice).

Scott has been involved numerous community agencies and organizations over the past several years. He is past chair of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s Brooks Fund Advisory Council (having been a member since 2008). A dedicated volunteer, he frequently advocates for children and families through the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), the Foster Care Review Board, the Nashville Citizen’s Police Alumni Association, Leadership Donelson-Hermitage group and by serving as a surrogate parent for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
He has served as Past President of the Board of Directors for the Middle Tennessee Association for Child Care; Temporary Residents of Adolescents in Crisis, Inc. (TRAC); First Steps, Inc., and the Crisis Intervention Center (now a division of Family and Children’s Services). He was also a founding member of Renewal House. He served three terms as president of the Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare’s Board of Directors and two terms on the Board of Directors for OutCentral. He served on the Metro Nashville Human Relations Commission for six years under two different mayoral administrations, including a two-year term as the Commission’s Chair.

He was employed at the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute from 1989-1995 in various positions, such as Psychiatric Teacher Counselor, Liaison Teacher Counselor, and finally the Admissions Director for the Children and Youth programs. From 1995 to 2001 he was employed with the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY,) where he ultimately served as a Children’s Plan Outcome Reviewer for the 1994 Governor’s Children’s Plan. He later became the Coordinator of the Mid-Cumberland Council on Children and Youth, which had over 1,200 advocates involved in different projects across Middle Tennessee. His last position at TCCY was Director of Field Operations.

Scott holds a Master’s of Science in Public Service Management from Cumberland University and a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. However, Scott is most proud to be the father of Matthew, age 21.

Scott may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (615) 312-3120.

Misty Leitsch, BBA, BSW, Zero Suicide Director

Misty Leitsch is in charge of overseeing statewide implementation of the Zero Suicide Initiative by TSPN and community partners. Before joining TSPN’s staff, she served for five years on the TSPN Advisory Council, having been appointed to this post by the Office of the Governor of Tennessee. As chair of TSPN’s Mid-Cumberland Region, Misty organized the region’s first Annual Memorial Walk and conducted numerous suicide prevention training sessions for crisis centers, behavioral health facilities, schools, businesses, and civic groups.

These duties were carried out strictly on a volunteer basis, outside of her professional involvement in the mental health field. This included her work as the Statewide Education Coordinator at the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee (now Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee), where she coordinated depression screenings and mental health education sessions for people across Middle Tennessee, including K-12 school staff. She also created and produced several public outreach workshops and curricula while in this position. Misty has also worked with other TSPN partners and allies, including New Transitions, Inc., Rolling Hills Hospital, and the Mental Health Cooperative.

Misty double-majored in Social Work and Business Administration while working on her bachelor’s degree at Belmont University in Nashville, graduating in 2007.

Misty may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (615) 312-3121.

Mary Anne Christian, Ed.S., South Central Tennessee Regional Director

Before joining the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, Mary Anne worked as an educator before transitioning to a school administrator in both private and public schools in Tennessee and Alabama. Since beginning her career in education, she experienced a need for working with the mental and emotional issues faced by students. As a school leader, she worked closely with the school counselors to coordinate behavior plans and improve the mental health of the students and the staff. She has also experienced several students who had suicidal ideations. She has witnessed the increased need for mental healthcare in communities, as well as, the need to educate communities about mental health and eliminate the mental health stigma.  Her experiences have helped her to realize her passion for the health and mental health of the students, parents, staff, and communities she has served.

Through her desire to learn more and work towards bringing awareness to mental health, she was selected as one of the inaugural members of the School Counseling Advisory Team for the state of Tennessee. She also served on the AWARE Advisory committee in Lawrence County. She has completed several trainings in Youth Mental Health and First Aid, Restorative Practices, Jason Foundation, and Youth Protection.

Mary Anne holds a master’s degree in K-12 Administration and Supervision and an Education Specialist degree in curriculum and instruction, both from Middle Tennessee State University. Mary Anne enjoys spending time with her husband and five children and staying active for her overall health and mental health.

Mary Anne may be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at (931) 629-2746.

Sarah Elmer, BS, Middle Tennessee Regional Director

Before joining TSPN, Elmer held the position of Hospital Liaison at Centerstone, a non-for profit mental health agency. Elmer’s primary duty was to coordinate care for patients within the psychiatric hospital setting; thus allowing her to gain knowledge and understanding of the in-patient treatment process.

Prior to Centerstone, Elmer worked at the Department of Children Services (DCS) as a Foster Care worker and a Juvenile Justice worker, from 2017-2018. Elmer’s responsibilities included resolution conflict between families, the Department, and even in the court systems. In December of 2017, Elmer began to work as a Juvenile Case manager. This allowed her to gain experience with at-risk youth.

In addition to Elmer’s work experience, she is also one of the co-founders of the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition (NTBBC). Elmer and Trish Merleo co-founded the NTBBC in September of 2018. In 2015, Elmer lost her sister to suicide at the Natchez Trace Bridge, and in 2017 lost a friend/colleague to suicide at the bridge. The impact of a great loss was the catalyst for change. The NTBBC has afforded Elmer the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in the development and the implementation of policy.

Elmer’s background within social welfare began in Fall 2016 and carried on through Spring 2017 while obtaining her B.S. in Social Work at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). Elmer graduated with honors in the spring of 2017.

Sarah Elmer may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (615) 312-3121.

Michael Anderson, Upper Cumberland Regional Director

Michael is a native of the Upper Cumberland region. He studied Mechanical Engineering at TTU before finding his passion for the field of human services working as a volunteer with the Children’s Miracle Network, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and later, serving persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the roles of Program Compliance Director and Executive Director for Pacesetters Incorporated. He has stayed active in the community through civic outreach programs like Leadership Putnam and the Citizen’s Fire Academy of Cookeville. He is also accredited through the Crisis Prevention Institute, the American Safety & Health Institute, the TN Safety and Health Council, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, LivingWorks and the Jason Foundation. He has experienced loss from suicide twice in his lifetime and is resolved to be a resource to the Upper Cumberland by raising public awareness of the issue and working to reduce the number of suicides and suicide attempts.

Michael may be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

 

Tosha Gurley, BS, Northwest Tennessee Regional Director

Before joining TSPN, Gurley was the Independent Support Coordinator Program Supervisor at the Tennessee Community Services Agency (TNCSA), a public agency created by the General Assembly of Tennessee with a broad mission of serving Tennesseans in need. Gurley’s responsibilities included the management of Independent Support Plans for people served by HCBS Medicaid Waivers and ensuring compliance with Centers for Medicare/Medicare Services. She also developed and monitored a program delivery system to help maintain TNCSA’s 4 Star Agency rating.

Prior to her work with TNCSA, Gurley was a Family Advocate for the Exchange Club Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse. Part of her work included preparing children testifying in abuse cases for court cases, and she also facilitated parenting education and child sexual abuse prevention courses.

Gurley holds a B.S. in Human Services from Bethel University, where she received the Human Services Honor Award and completed a field placement with Volunteer Home Care Medical Social Work.

Tosha may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (731) 415-3812.

Lindsey Carr, BS, Southwest Tennessee Regional Director

Lindsey Carr is a Jackson, Tennessee native. Originally believing engineering was her path, Lindsey quickly realized she had passion to serve people in a different capacity. After graduating from Bethel University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services, Lindsey first became a Health Coach under a state-funded grant program called My Health, My Choice, My Life. She was able to travel the grand region of West Tennessee to various peer-support centers, teaching self-management skills to those with lived experience in mental health or substance misuse.
When the program ended, Lindsey went on to become the Project Director for the Jackson-Madison Prevention Coalition, which focuses on the prevention of drug misuse among youth. She was able to cultivate and grow the Youth Advisory Council, comprised of high school students from all major high schools in Jackson. Their focus was developing peer-led strategies for drug prevention, giving youth a voice in the types of messaging being delivered. After two successful years with the Coalition, Lindsey went on to become the Coordinator. In that role she was able to oversee four state-funded grants, all focused on the prevention, treatment, and recovery from substance misuse. Lindsey has been happily married since October of 2015 to her husband and best friend Tyler, and you can often find them spending time with friends and family, riding roller coasters, and catching the latest new releases at the local Redbox.

Lindsey may be reached at [email protected], or by phone at (731)-988-6813.

Sarah Walsh, MPH, East Tennessee Regional Director

Sarah Walsh is originally from the Indianapolis area, coming to east Tennessee for her undergraduate studies at Milligan College. In 2016, she earned her B.S. in Biology with minors in Humanities and Missions. Sarah graduated in May 2019 with a Master’s of Public Health from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. At UTK, she concentrated in Community Health Education, minored in Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and earned a Food Safety Certificate. Sarah found her passion of combining education, health, and diseases for under-served or vulnerable populations. 

Before coming to TSPN, Sarah worked for the Social Work Office of Research and Public Service (SWORPS), University Housing, and the Upward Bound Math and Science Center. SWORPS allowed her to create a Community Health Assessment Template for future clients, facilitate qualitative and quantitative research methods, and analyze large data sets. The other previous work experiences granted Sarah the opportunity to serve individuals in high school, college, and beyond. Through this, she found her passion for students in high school and spends her time weekly mentoring a group of girls.

Sarah may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (317) 750-6838.

Rachel Gearinger, MPH, Southeast Tennessee Regional Director

Having moved to the Chattanooga area from Ohio in 2018, Rachel’s most recent position involved coordinating community-based support services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Additionally, Rachel has served in many capacities with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), advocating for individuals with mental illnesses and their families and promoting awareness and early intervention. During her time at NAMI Ohio, she led the organization’s statewide telephone helpline, spearheaded housing initiatives, and developed communication materials. She collaborated with state government and other stakeholders to improve the quality of care to individuals with serious mental illnesses who live in long-term group housing and increase access to housing.

She has and continues to volunteer her time on the board of directors of NAMI organizations. Rachel currently serves on the board of NAMI Chattanooga, where she is responsible for maintaining social media and creating the monthly newsletter. She is certified through NAMI as a presenter for the Ending the Silence youth program and as a support group facilitator.

She has a diverse background in mental health, communications, and research. Prior to working in the mental health field, she worked as a freelance writer and as a scientific researcher, studying the effects of stress on the immune system, heart failure, and muscular dystrophy.

She holds a master’s degree in public health from The Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and writing from DePauw University. She enjoys spending time on her farm with her many rescued animals and volunteers at her local animal shelter.

Sarah may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (614) 315-4818.

Molly Colley, MA, NCC, Northeast Tennessee Regional Director

Prior to becoming part of the TSPN team, Molly was an adult outpatient therapist with Frontier Health at Watauga Behavioral Health Services in Johnson City, Tennessee, and at Scott County Behavioral Services in Weber City, Virginia. As a therapist, Molly worked with individual clients as well as groups, including facilitating an intensive outpatient psychotherapy group for people with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Molly has also worked as an adjunct professor at East Tennessee State University, teaching undergraduate courses for the Department of Counseling and Human Services.

Molly was also a family development specialist with Health Connect America, providing in-home therapy and services to children and their families in northeast Tennessee. While earning her master’s degree, Molly was a graduate assistant with THRIVE, East Tennessee State University’s suicide and violence prevention outreach program, a part of the ETSU Counseling Center. There, she worked to provide suicide prevention education, resources, and advocacy to the ETSU community.  

Molly is a National Certified Counselor (NCC). She holds a Master of Arts degree in Counseling, as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, both from East Tennessee State University. During her undergraduate education, she completed research on topics such as interpersonal rejection and self-control.

Her compassion, drive for human connection, and her own loss of family and friends by suicide have fueled her passion for the mental health field.

Molly may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (423) 817-5566.

Justin Johnson, MSW, Memphis/Shelby County Tennessee Regional Director

Justin is from Millington, TN, he served in the United States Marines Corps for five years with two combat deployments to Iraq in support of Operation Iraq Freedom. He also served as a police officer for five years as a patrolman. He brings a skill set from his law enforcement background of applied crisis intervention skills, to deal with situations that he encountered in this profession that ranged from domestic violence to mental health issues. 

He is a graduate of the University of Memphis where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work. For graduate school, his field placement was at the Memphis Veterans Affairs Hospital as a Suicide Prevention Case Manager Intern. Justin has a  professional work history which gives him the unique cultural insight and experience needed to effectively work within the mentioned communities and the general population. Justin has extensive experience helping the most at-risk populations with the highest rates of suicide.

While he was employed at Veterans Affairs, he was personally responsible for providing counseling to veterans who had been flagged for suicidal ideation. He was also responsible for conducting suicide prevention training to nursing homes and colleges throughout the Mid-South for Veterans Affairs.

Justin conducted a program evaluation of suicide prevention programs, at Veterans Affairs for suicide prevention efforts. His program evaluation was recognized amongst his peers and selected to be the standard-setting example for the University of Memphis social work graduate classes of proper program evaluation. 

 Justin is an avid runner and uses running to raise money each year for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to fight childhood cancer, he also is a Crossfitter. Justin is a life member of Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Post Commander of Collierville VFW Post 5066. 

Justin hopes to bring his dedication, education and practical skill set to the position of TSPN Regional Director for Memphis/Shelby County, TN. 

Justin may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Grace Eakin, BS, Director of Statewide Initiatives and Development

Grace Eakin was born and raised in Knoxville, TN. As she wanted to stay close to home for college, she attended the University of Tennessee and in 2016, graduated with both a major in Psychology and Political Science. Although she loved her core curriculum in undergraduate, she was ready to take a new path when entering the workforce, and this has led her to live and work in different cities across Tennessee.

Starting her career in Knoxville, she worked for a video production company for a little less than a year, gaining experience in marketing, video advertising, and social media marketing. Ready to make a move from home, she traveled to the westernmost part of the state to Memphis. Here, she worked as a Graphic Designer and then was promoted to a Marketing Manager for an international wholesale furniture company. While she gained a marketing and communications skill set in Memphis, she was ready to return a little closer to home, and what better place to be than in Nashville.

After having many different positions in differing industries, it seemed right that when she came to Nashville she would try and find a place of work that both utilized her majors and her desire to give back to her fellow Tennesseans. Grace is passionate about destigmatizing the conversation about mental health and is thrilled to be joining the TSPN team to better serve her community promoting mental health through education and service. She will be the Director of Statewide Initiatives and Development.

Grace may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (865) 617-1301.


TSPN Locations

Nashville (Main Office):

446 Metroplex Drive, Suite A-224

Nashville, TN 37211

West Tennessee Office:

15 Executive Drive

Jackson, TN 38305

East Tennessee Office:

9050 Executive Park Dr. NW, Suite 104-A

 Knoxville, TN 37923

Upper Cumberland Office:

1200 S Willow Avenue

Cookeville, TN 38506

Southeast Regional Office:

1635 Chestnut St

Chattanooga 37408

Southeast Regional Office:

208 E. Unaka Avenue

Johnson City, TN 37601