Ryan’s Team asks Southold to display ‘988’ signs

One Mattituck family wants all Southold Town residents to know that if they or a loved one are struggling with depression or mental anguish, someone at 988 is always available to listen.

Michael and Kristen Oliver and their daughter, Kate, are advocating for displaying signs throughout the town with the three-digit phone number for 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Anyone in the United States can call or text 988 to confidentially discuss mental health concerns — including thoughts of suicide, substance use and any other emotional crisis — with a mental health professional in either English or Spanish through a national network of more than 200 crisis centers. 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline does not officially provide signs, but many mental health advocates have created them in recent years to spread word of the resource.

Mr. Oliver purchased 20 signs bearing the phone number in large, bold characters, as well as a small logo for Ryan’s Team, the charity envisioned and created by the family to honor Kate’s brother, Ryan, who died Jan. 28, 2021. He was 16.

“We threw our logo on it so people know someone local is here for help,” Mr. Oliver said to the Southold Town Board during its work session last Tuesday morning.

Mr. Oliver has held discussions with local school districts and fire departments who agreed to display the signs. Last Tuesday, he asked the Town Board to help him spread the message at town-owned properties as well.

“We bought the signs, we would just like you to hang them at the beaches, just kind of around town,” Mr. Oliver told the board. “I have 20 signs, I’d be happy to buy 20 more, 30 more, however many more. But we need someone to hang them.”

Mr. Oliver’s request appeared to be well-received. As the board discussed where to hang the signs, Town Supervisor Al Krupski noted that “certainly inside of the buildings would be easier,” and suggested Town Hall, the Southold Town Hall Annex and the Southold Town Recreation Department in Peconic as possible locations. Mr. Oliver gave the sample sign he brought with him to Town Board member Anne Smith, who said she would discuss the initiative with the recreation department.

“The senior center already has said they would like one,” Ms. Smith said in a telephone interview. “Then we’re going to look at perhaps road-end beaches, Tasker Park where families go, Jean Cochran Park where people go to walk, where there’s a lot of visibility so people are aware and reminded that this number is available and that they can tell other people about it.

“I think post-COVID-19, a lot of people have developed a new understanding and sensitivity to behavioral health, mental health, substance abuse disorders,” Ms. Smith continued. “I think people are starting to see mental health as a part of whole-body health. It’s more normalized, more a part of our every day to talk about these things. Because of COVID-19, we had a lot of conversations about isolation, loneliness, the need for human connection … [These signs are a] reminder that in that moment when you don’t know who to turn to, here’s a good starting place.”

Posting 988 signs throughout town is Mr. Oliver and his family’s latest effort to honor Ryan, whom his community remembers as a talented lacrosse athlete and a caring friend. This year will mark the organization’s third annual memorial lacrosse tournament for high school-age lacrosse players — this year welcoming girls for the first time. In February, Ryan’s Team joined with the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District and a handful of Mattituck businesses for P.S. I Love You Day, a suicide prevention initiative that has spread across Long Island born from a tragedy that struck a West Islip family. Next year, to recognize P.S. I Love You Day, Mr. Oliver hopes even more participants will don or display purple, the official color of mental health awareness initiatives.

“There’s still a stigma with mental health,” Mr. Oliver told the Town Board last Tuesday. “We’re trying to end that stigma.”