A Westchester County family impacted by the tragedy of their son's suicide is honoring him with an organization they founded to prevent the suffering of another family.
The Break The Hold (BTH) Foundation - stands for “Break the Hold” on mental illness - was established two years ago by Brian and Jolina Halloran whose middle son, Brian Thomas Halloran, lost his life from depression and suicide on Jan. 23, 2018.
The second “Raise the Volume” BTH Foundation gala in association with the Mental Health Association of Westchester will be held on Saturday, Feb. 8 at Club Infinity in Pleasantville, at 7:30 p.m.
The Pleasantville parents of three want to help others who suffer the way their son had. Their foundation brings talk of suicide out of the shadows and into the light in Pleasantville and beyond.
Its hopeful mission is to prevent suicide and bring emotional wellness to youth through school and community-based advocacy and resilience educational programming.
The foundation also is charged with reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and those suffering.
BTH education is provided in the Pleasantville school district to middle and high school students and family members, educators, parents and community members.
The BTH Foundation is named after the Hallorans’ son’s initials. Brian was a freshman at the University of South Carolina where his history of depression and anxiety suddenly resurfaced, his father said in an interview.
The family received the tragic news from a local police officer who came to their door telling them they had been notified by police in South Carolina that young Brian had died by suicide.
Brian's father remembers the day as a "horribly sad movie," but painfully relives it telling the story in hopes of preventing another tragedy, at educational seminars and his foundation's annual fundraiser.
"He felt there was no way out of the pain and confusion and that it would never end. This horrible disease depression can break down one’s resilience over time and can turn rational thought into irrational behavior," said Brian Halloran.
"The Pleasantville community where Brian Thomas grew up is small and close-knit. People know everybody, the good and the bad, " explained his father.
It was suddenly battered by a series of tragedies like this among school kids. "We've suffered a great deal of tragedy in our community," he said remembering other young people who died from suicide in Pleasantville.
"We thought there needs to be something done. I did not know what to do with the energy and the emotion of the loss of my son. I can sit in the basement and cry all the time, or go out in the world to tell the story of my son. He suffered from an illness that took him early. This illness could touch anybody, and it's up to us. He had a diagnosed mental illness; suffered for many years from anxiety and depression. He was doing better, doing well, progressing, and decided he wanted to go down south to college."
Brian's parents, his father continued, think the transition to college is a big change for children who grow up in a small community like many of the towns in Westchester.
The protections built into them are removed when teens go off to college. "So we began our work by doing college transition seminars," Halloran said.
BTH introduced the workshop to seniors at Pleasantville High School which is now mandatory. Halloran lauded the school administration in the Pleasantville school district for taking a "progressive" approach in making the information part of the curriculum.
"The mission we are creating in Pleasantville is sustainable and can be replicated in other school districts," he continued.
BTH has successfully brought suicide and mental health awareness programs to high schools outside of Pleasantville, including Alexander Hamilton High School in Elmsford, and Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose.
"We wanted to increase the dialogue around mental illness. Our mission has pivoted and our main directive now is educational programming," said Halloran.
BTH will continue to build programming for other schools in Westchester.
New York state public schools are required to have mental health education in their curriculum. The innovative law passed on July 1, 2018, made New York the second state (after Virginia) to require mental health education alongside physical health education.
BTH contributes to that education by offering Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT Steps-A) instruction for high school students at each school system. The foundation sponsors the instructor/facilitator to guide the students through this course which focuses on mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal skills allowing all to develop needed coping skills.
"We'll provide the education and funding if you can implement it in your school," Brian Halloran said.
In addition, BTH offers a program for parents, GPS: Going Places Skillfully/Navigational Tools for Parenting & Life. The next course is Feb. 27 at Pleasantville Library. The course addresses mindfulness, emotional regulations, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness.
While the foundation swiftly connected with key "collaborators," Halloran believes his family's story draws attention to the BTH mission.
"It resonates with everyone. My story and the personal connection carry weight and people listen," he said. It is the reason he and Brian's mother share their tragedy.
It's hard to relive but Halloran said he will continue telling Brian's story as a way to honor his life and help others."I am representing him with pride and telling other people my son died from an illness that led him to believe he had no hope. I want people to know things can change. There is hope; it doesn't happen overnight. We have to create a game plan and move forward with counseling, mediation, communication."
The Hallorans share their stories at parent workshops and events. For details about the Feb. 8 fundraiser, click here.
For more information about Break the Hold and to register for the parenting workshop, click here.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255) or Text “TALK" to 741-741
Westchester also supports a Crisis Prevention and Response Team through St.Vincent’s Hospital at (914-925-5959).
If you need immediate assistance or if this is an urgent situation, please call 911.