Sonia Chessen

Sonia Chessen

Deputy Assistant Secretary

As SAMHSA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary, Sonia Chessen oversees the agency’s mental health services, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, as well as the cross-agency efforts to improve behavioral health outcomes for children, youth and families. Ms. Chessen was the executive sponsor of the 988 initiative and helped lead the transition to the new 3-digit number and the development of the 2024 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and Federal Action Plan.

In addition to the mental health portfolio, Ms. Chessen oversees SAMHSA’s daily operations and is responsible for SAMHSA’s budget and management functions, including the formulation and deployment of the agency’s highly successful staff engagement strategy.

Prior to her Federal service, Ms. Chessen was at the Pew Charitable Trusts first as Deputy Director of the Pew Health Group and then as Chief of Staff. There she oversaw the development and implementation of a five-year strategy to improve Americans’ health and wellbeing in areas of financial security, drug and food safety, and consumer product safety, entitled “Protecting Americans from Hidden Risks.”

Previous to her tenure at Pew, Ms. Chessen spent seven years at HHS in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation where she was responsible for the adolescent health portfolio. During that time, she was detailed to the White House twice to lead interagency efforts aimed at reducing youth risk-taking behaviors and promoting youth development. Ms. Chessen began her career as the Director of Social Service for a youth-serving agency in the Cabrini Green housing development in Chicago. This is where she first fell in love with adolescents, was energized by their resilience in the face of extraordinary challenges and drew her lifetime commitment to working on improving health and economic outcomes.

Ms. Chessen has an Arts Masters in Social Service Administration from University of Chicago and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Wellesley College.

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