Or­ga­ni­za­tion aims to pre­vent sui­cide through ed­u­ca­tion

The Avenue News - - FRONT PAGE - By: GIANNA DECARLO gde­[email protected]­pub.com

The tragic sui­cide of Of­fi­cer Joseph Comegna, the school re­source of­fi­cer at Eastern Tech­ni­cal High School in Es­sex, last week shocked the com­mu­nity and rein­vig­o­rated im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions on men­tal health and sui­cide pre­ven­tion.

For White Marsh res­i­dent Wil­liam York, the loss of Ofc. Comegna hits close to home. His 20-year-old son Joshua, an Eastern Tech grad­u­ate, took his own life in July.

De­spite his im­mea­sur­able grief, York said the loss of Josh in­spired him to do more to help those who are deal­ing with de­pres­sion and other men­tal health is­sues as a way to keep his son’s mem­ory alive.

He and his wife cre­ated the Joshua York Legacy Foun­da­tion, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to sui­cide aware­ness and pre­ven­tion through out­reach, ed­u­ca­tion, and im­proved ac­cess to men­tal health­care, a project which York calls “his life mis­sion.”

The foun­da­tion’s pur­pose is also its motto: to “strengthen lives with love.” Through fundrais­ing and events, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s goal is to reach out to vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, such as the LGBTQ in­di­vid­u­als, col­lege stu­dents,

and mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, and pro­vide them with low-cost, and of­ten­times live-sav­ing, men­tal health care and other re­sources.

Start­ing spring of next year, the foun­da­tion will be award­ing a schol­ar­ship to an Eastern Tech stu­dent in Josh’s name. To be el­i­gi­ble, ETHS stu­dents must write an es­say on how they have helped some­body or how they have been helped.

An­other ini­tia­tive, he said, is to es­tab­lish emer­gency re­sponse teams for fam­i­lies and friends deal­ing with the im­me­di­ate ef­fects of sui­cide along with an emer­gency fund for those fam­i­lies to help with travel, ho­tel, food and other emer­gency costs.

York ex­plained that sui­ci­dal thoughts can af­fect any­body, from his seem­ingly happy son to a wellloved school re­source of­fi­cer.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Men­tal Health, sui­cide is the tenth lead­ing cause of death over­all in the United States and the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death among in­di­vid­u­als be­tween the ages of 10 and 34, claim­ing the lives of nearly 45,000 peo­ple a year.

Rec­og­niz­ing the signs and get­ting the in­di­vid­ual help as quickly as pos­si­ble can make all the dif­fer­ence.

“If you see a loved one act­ing dif­fer­ently, such as us­ing al­co­hol or drugs, with­draw­ing from ac­tiv­i­ties, iso­lat­ing them­selves, talk to them. In the United States, one per­son dies ev­ery 12 min­utes from sui­cide. I urge you to put down your phone, pay at­ten­tion and con­nect with some­one on a per­sonal level, as sim­ple as it sounds, it could help save some­one’s life.”

The foun­da­tion hopes to spread this knowl­edge by bring­ing guest speak­ers and pre­sen­ta­tions about sui­cide pre­ven­tion into class­rooms all over the area. York has been speak­ing to the coun­selors at Eastern Tech and hopes to get these pro­grams into the school.

“Of­ten­times, peo­ple don’t see or pick up on the signs, es­pe­cially in the male pop­u­la­tion. We want to en­sure that ev­ery per­son that needs help gets it, by open­ing up a di­a­logue on sui­cide to let peo­ple know it’s okay to talk about it,” he said.

An­other in­ci­den­tal im­pact of the foun­da­tion was the cre­ation of the Face­book group called “Sui­cide pre­ven­tion rocks”. In­spired by other on­line cam­paigns where peo­ple painted rocks with pos­i­tive mes­sages and left them in ran­dom places for strangers to find, York cre­ated his own to spread feel-good mes­sages that pro­mote self-love.

He couldn’t have pre­dicted how quickly it grew. The group now boasts thou­sands of mem­bers in 25 coun­tries rep­re­sent­ing all con­ti­nents.

“It has be­come its own sup­port group,” said York who ex­plained that on the page peo­ple share their own ex­pe­ri­ences with sui­cide and help oth­ers that may be strug­gling.

York said that the foun­da­tion is just a con­tin­u­a­tion of how Josh lived his life. Dur­ing his fu­neral, hun­dreds of peo­ple from all stages of his life showed up and shared how Josh had helped them in some way.

“I want to en­cour­age peo­ple to act when they see some­one in pain. Act­ing can be any­thing like just ask­ing them ‘Hey, are you feel­ing okay?’”, he said. “It’s form­ing a sim­ple con­nec­tion.”

Although the or­ga­ni­za­tion isn’t even a year old yet, York said it has done vast amounts of good and that it will only grow from here.

“We have peo­ple who said we’ve helped them in so many ways, so we know we’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence,” said York. “If we help one per­son, that’s good. If we help one per­son a day, it’s even bet­ter.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Joshua York Legacy Foun­da­tion, visit

www.face­book.com/JoshuaYorkFoun­da­tion or www.joshuayorkfoun­da­tion.org.

If you are in cri­sis, please call the Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or con­tact the Cri­sis Text Line by tex­ting TALK to 741-741.

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