In recognition of Suicide Awareness Month, the Town of Hempstead has teamed up with the Ryan Patrick O’Shea Foundation of Rockville Centre to host its first suicide prevention and awareness event, on Sept. 26, at the Nathan L.H. Bennett Pavilion in Hempstead.
Town officials and community advocates will gather for a community forum to discuss the need to increase mental health awareness, educate the community on suicide prevention, provide support for those in crisis, and ultimately put an end to suicide.
John O’Shea, one of the co-founders and the vice president of the Ryan Patrick O’Shea Foundation, said that what he hoped people would take away from the conversation is that suicide is preventable.
“What we’re doing, and what we’re trying to do, is give the kids in schools the tools to identify and understand that in life, you’re going to sometimes have problems,” O’Shea said. “We don’t need to wait for a cure. Talk saves lives. Talk gives people the power to get past their pain and struggles. You’re not the only one that’s going through it.”
Suicide is a major public health problem, and one of the leading causes of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reported that nearly 49,500 people nationwide took their own lives in 2022 — a record high, and an increase of almost 3 percent over the year before.
Many experts believe the shocking total is attributable to the limited availability of mental health services.
John and Mary O’Shea created the Ryan Patrick O’Shea Foundation after the loss of their son, Ryan, a South Side High School graduate and former captain of the Cyclones basketball team, who took his own life in 2019. Over the past four years, the foundation has helped fund and promote programming on mental health awareness, support and education in local school districts.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” John O’Shea said of the upcoming event.
Students from Rockville Centre and Oceanside will attend the forum, and discuss the Sources of Strength program and the life lessons they have learned from it. Sources of Strength is a national suicide-prevention program that takes a proactive approach to addressing mental health concerns by providing a network of resources and support such as friends, relatives, mentors, counselors, spiritual leaders, and mental health professionals.
School social workers, counselors and psychologists in the districts help facilitate the program at a local level, with the assistance of 20 adult advisers and 50 peer leaders whose focus is to promote healing and support so that students know they are not alone in their struggles.
Officers with the Rockville Centre Police Department will also be in attendance to discuss the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training Program, which is designed to equip law enforcement professionals with the resources and tools to intervene when a civilian is at risk of suicide.
Both the Sources of Strength and ASIST programs are funded locally by the O’Shea Foundation.
Based on the success of Sources of Strength, which is currently in its fourth year at South Side High School, the foundation has expanded to bring programming focused on social and emotional well-being to other communities, including Oceanside and Freeport.
According to John O’Shea, the foundation recently committed to implementing the program in the Lynbrook and Bethpage school districts as well as the Sacred Heart Academy, in Hempstead; the Brearley School, in Manhattan; and the Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart.
“This is big. We’re really excited,” Kathy Baxley, the deputy mayor of Rockville Centre and the village liaison to the school district, said of next week’s event. “It’s a great collaboration between so many different entities, including the village, and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Suicide Prevention and Awareness Forum is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday. The Nathan L.H. Bennett Pavilion is next door to Hempstead Town Hall, at 1 Washington St. in Hempstead. For more information, go to HempsteadNY.gov, and for more about the foundation and the Sources of Strength program, go to RyanPatrickOsheaFoundation.org.