The Columbia Lighthouse Project Staff

With extensive experience and a fervent commitment to suicide prevention, our staff provides the support you need to administer the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) to identify suicide risk and determine the level of assistance each person needs.

Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, Ph.D.


Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber is a Professor of Psychiatry in the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, the Founder and Director of The Columbia Lighthouse Project, and a member of the board of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She was commissioned by the FDA to develop improved methods of suicide risk assessment which they then characterized as “setting a standard in the field” and The New York Times called this work “one of the most profound changes of the past sixteen years to regulations governing drug development.” The CDC noted that her work is “changing the paradigm in suicide risk assessment in the US and worldwide.” The President of the American Psychiatric Association noted the C-SSRS “could be seen as really a watershed moment, like the introduction of antibiotics.” The Department of Defense called her work with the C-SSRS “nothing short of a miracle”, is central to their National Strategy, and said it “will help propel us closer to a world without suicide.” Dr. Posner is about to receive The Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service. Her work with the C-SSRS has been noted in a keynote speech at the White House, has been presented to Congress, and she presented in a school safety forum at the U.S. Senate. Through her advocacy, she has changed local, national and international policy, which in turn has helped achieve reductions in suicide across all types of public health settings, military, states, healthcare, and countries. She gave the invited presentation on tackling depression and suicide at the first European Union high level conference on mental health, was recognized as the most Distinguished Alumna of her graduate school in the past fifty years, and received the New York State Suicide Prevention Award. Her policy work with the C-SSRS helped the state of Utah achieve its first decrease in suicides in a decade and helped the U.S. Marine Corp achieve a 22% suicide reduction. Israel said her work “is not only saving millions of lives but in Israel it is literally changing the way we live our lives.” Recommended or adopted by CDC, FDA, DoD, and NIMH, the C-SSRS has become the gold standard for suicide monitoring and is ubiquitous across the U.S and many international agencies. Dr. Posner’s scholarly work was included in the compendium of the most important research in the history of the study of suicide.

Kseniya Yershova, Ph.D.

Deputy Scientific Director

Dr. Kseniya Yershova is in charge of research-related and program-evaluation consultation across public health settings, academia and clinical trials; review of linguistic validation when the scale is translated into country-specific languages; and scientific writing and peer review. Her research and clinical interests include psychometrics, assessment, pediatric ADHD, psycholinguistics, and psychodynamic- and attachment-informed therapies. She also lectures on developmental psychopathology and supervises psychiatry and psychology trainees in clinical evaluation and treatment planning at Columbia University Medical School. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Adam Lesser, LCSW

Deputy Director

Adam Lesser is an 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 an Adjunct Professor in the Columbia School of Social Work. He is responsible for all Project activities related to public health, including the international dissemination of and training on the C-SSRS. Previously, he was the youth suicide project director at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, where he directed the statewide implementation of the C-SSRS and other suicide prevention tools and efforts through their Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant from SAMHSA. He has a master’s degree in social work from Smith College and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Tufts University.

Natalya Paykina, M.A.

Senior Administrative Director

Natalya Paykina directs the Project’s contracting, client communications, billing, and tracking of incoming requests. She has more than 20 years of administrative experience in the healthcare sector, including the coordination of more than two dozen pharmaceutical industry-sponsored trials on the safety and efficacy of medication for children and adults with various psychiatric disorders. She was the Columbia site coordinator for the largest NIMH-funded treatment study of ADHD, Multimodal Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (MTA), and the chief coordinator for the first NIMH-funded pharmacological treatment study of preschoolers with ADHD, Preschool ADHD Treatment Study (PATS). She has a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and economics from Hunter College, City University of New York.

Swati Sah

Project Administrator

Swati Sah assists in administrative duties for the Project, with a focus on the public health dissemination of the C-SSRS. She came to the Project after receiving her masters in public health from the College of Global Health at NYU. She also has bachelor’s degree in english from NYU.

Lauren Jaremko

Special Assistant to the Director

Lauren Jaremko is responsible for the organization and management of the work necessary for the smooth running of project operations. She is the liaison between the director and a variety of constituencies, and coordinates the completion of tasks in line with the director’s goals and vision. Before joining the project, her career focused on marketing and business development. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy from the University of Delaware, where she worked in research on social cooperation and decision making.