Each week, we try to publish stories in our newspapers that people will take the time to read and talk about with family and friends. Some carry more emotional weight than others, reminding readers of challenges — and sometimes tragedies — in their own lives.
One of those appears this week, and we urge everyone to read it. Here is how staff writer Melissa Azofeifa’s story begins:
“Mattituck-Cutchogue School District is honoring the legacy of former student Ryan Oliver with ‘P.S. I Love You Day.’ The district has been participating in the event for the past three years, but this year, for the first time, they’ve teamed up with local charity Ryan’s Team to help raise awareness about mental health issues.”
Ryan Oliver died in January 2021. He was just 16. The words are hard to write, let alone say. The word “tragedy” is inadequate to describe such a loss. There are no words, really.
As our story says, Kate Oliver, Ryan’s sister, started Ryan’s Team that same year to honor her brother. She wanted something positive to come from something unimaginably horrific.
Ryan’s father, Michael Oliver, said the team was created for two reasons: “One, to help local families in need, and also to help further awareness of the stigma of mental health and suicide.”
“P.S. I Love You Day” began in 2011, founded by sisters Brooke and Jamie DiPalma to honor their father, who took his own life in 2010. “I love you” were the last words Joseph DiPalma said to his daughter.
“The message is to stand up against bullying, help end depression and prevent suicide,” Mr. Oliver said of the effort behind “P.S. I Love You.”
In the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District this week, students and staff have worn different colors each day to call attention to various mental health challenges. On Friday, they will wear purple, the official color of mental health awareness. We commend the district for getting involved in this cause. Local businesses have also been asked to display purple in their storefronts to show their support.
This remarkable effort speaks both to the strength of a community when it embraces an issue and to the commitment of advocates who will reach out to anyone with mental health challenges to help them get the assistance they need. Ryan’s family has reached beyond their loss to help others. This speaks volumes about them.
In April 2021, Anne Smith, former superintendent of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, wrote a guest column for our papers that began: “The North Fork is experiencing an increased need for comprehensive mental health and substance use services within our schools and community.”
Ms. Smith, who is now a member the Southold Town Board, was sounding the alarm about a lack of state funding for the North Fork Coalition for Behavioral Health, which she had helped establish in 2016.
“NFCBH strives to strengthen and expand a network of clinical providers, school district teams, social service agencies, hospitals, town, county and community resources to improve access to behavioral health services in our community,” she wrote in that column, which also praised state legislators like Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) for voting to restore NFCBH funding that had been cut due to the challenges of COVID-19.
Ms. Smith also made it crystal clear that the need for such services is great: “The partnership was formed with Family Service League, local providers and our school districts and towns for the purpose of diverting our youth from hospitalization and providing access to compassionate and more immediate responses to crisis and follow up care.”
To the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, its leadership and students, and to everyone who works to help others through mental health crisis, we applaud you. You help make us all better.