Legislator Josh Lafazan, an independent from Woodbury, joined Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, and Deputy County Executive Kyle Rose-Lauder on Feb. 8 to light the dome of the Nassau County Legislative Building in honor of P.S. I Love You Day. The dome shone purple, the color the foundation has adopted.
Recognized every second Friday of February, P.S. I Love You Day, which is nationally observed, is dedicated to raising suicide awareness and combating bullying in schools. Founders Brooke and Jaimie DiPalma started the foundation after the death of their father, Joseph DiPalma Jr., who took his own life in 2010. The two sisters run a program that reaches thousands of students in over 150 schools nationwide.
“I’m so moved to be joined by the DiPalma sisters, and I thank you for everything you do,” Lafazan said. “You’re exceptional members not only of [the millennial] generation, but I hope that you continue to inspire young people to see your example of making a difference in your community.”
Later, he added, “You inspire me on a daily basis.”
Lafazan said his staff found out about the foundation through their own research, and decided they would spearhead the campaign for mental health awareness in Nassau County.
“I have the youngest staff in the Legislature,” said Lafazan after the ceremony, “so to see what inspires my generation which has been afflicted with teen suicide on the rise and mental health issues on the rise, to see the inspiration for the campaign from my interns, meant the world to me.”
Lafazan’s statement regarding the rise in teen suicide rings true on a national scale. According to a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen suicide increased by 31 percent from 10.8 per 100,000 individuals in 2007 to 14.2 per 100,000 people in 2015.
Lynn Higgins, a clinical social worker who practices in Glen Cove, has worked extensively with teens throughout her career. She said that bullying plays a large role in the development of suicidal ideation within younger demographics. “Bullying leaves the private part of any human being feeling worthless,” she said. “When somebody comes around and bullies again and again and again, it sort of substantiates that feeling.”
Higgins also said that one of the key reasons why teen suicide has increased over the past decade is the effect that social media has on teens. She said that the constant comparisons people make to one another via social media, whether it be through their images or their amount of “likes,” can further expose these feelings of worthlessness.
“It leaves kids feeling even more powerless,” she explained. “I think that kids, because they feel so alone and that they feel they are the only ones with this particular experience or feeling, they kind of carry that burden around.”
The DiPalma sisters said that they have made it their mission to do everything they can to help young people understand that their lives matter. When schools sign up to work with P.S. I Love You Day, the foundation sends out a packet with activity ideas suited for different age groups, all of which promote mental health awareness by encouraging self-love and bullying prevention.
“The best part is that the kids take these ideas and they run with them,” Brooke said, “and so it really is amazing that it just takes off itself.”
The sisters are humbled, Brooke said, that so many people have been touched by their work. She said she owes so much of what they have accomplished to their father.
“When I lost my dad, I never thought that this is what it would equate to. I never thought that I would be standing here,” Brooke said. “My dad was so into politics. My dad would be running around helping everyone. I never thought that I’d be on that side trying to advocate for a cause that I’m so passionate about.
“I’ve always wanted to be a change-maker because my dad inspired me to be but I never thought that I’d be a change-maker in this way in honor of him.”
For more information on P.S. I Love You Day, visit psiloveyouday.net. For anyone experiencing a crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours every day at (800) 273-8255.