After his son died by suicide in September, Chris Coluccio channeled his grief into what he calls “good grief.”
“What good can we do with this kind of grief?” he wondered, looking for a way to honor the legacy of his son Christopher Coluccio. The 14-year-old’s death came as a shock to the father, who had never worried about the mental health of his three children. His insurmountable loss, he said, highlighted a crying need in his community: this parents need to talk with their children about their mental health.
Boosted by the outpouring of community support his family has received and a donation of nearly $55,000 from the Johnny Mac Foundation, Coluccio started the Christopher Coluccio Foundation shortly after his son’s death.
Through the Blue Point-based nonprofit, Coluccio said he hopes “to try to change the script on how we talk about suicide, how families communicate, if we can. make it more open”. Coluccio said he wants to eliminate the stigma around mental health and provide struggling families with the resources to deal with a tragic loss.
Christopher Coluccio was a wrestler who loved to make people laugh, his father said. He said his son was a bright kid who loved playing video games.
The teenager’s death was one of at least two suicides in the community, prompting the Bayport-Blue Point school district to hold workshops for parents and guardians in the district with the help of the Family Service League, said Robyn Berger-Gaston, division director to the non-profit organization that provides counseling services to children and families. The district held a conference to discuss the risks of suicide, anxiety and depression earlier this month. Future sessions to discuss age-related stressors and ways to address them will take place in April, according to an email the district sent to families.
Berger-Gaston said that while bringing up the topic of suicide and depression can be difficult for parents, it’s important that they do. Additionally, they should discuss their own emotions to show their children that it’s okay to argue and struggle with their feelings and that life has its ups and downs, she said. Removing the stigma will make it easier to come forward when they’re struggling, added Kathy Rosenthal, the league’s vice president of programs.. According to the most recent data from the New York State Department of Health, 39 people age 19 and younger died by suicide between 2016 and 2018 on Long Island.
“[With] hopelessness and helplessness, it’s really important to explain that things can be different, it doesn’t have to be this way forever,” she said.
The Christopher Coluccio Foundation will hold its first fundraiser, a ping pong tournament, on April 9 to raise scholarship funds and help raise awareness of mental health issues. Coluccio plans to call one of the scholarships the “underachievement award” for students who, like his son, he says, are smart kids but aren’t at the top of their class – and don’t try to be.
Coluccio said he was drawn to the idea of a table tennis tournament, which his son loves to play, because it’s something that can be played regardless of skill or age and can “bring together families”.
Coluccio said his goal was to try to come up with ideas that will allow us “to approach this difficult conversation in an easier way”.
“Our first mission is to try to get parents and kids talking about it, to stop these things from happening, to create more accessible events to make it a more accessible topic.”
If you are having suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-8255.
Where to find help
The Bellmore-based Long Island Crisis Center has a 24/7 crisis hotline at 516-679-1111 where a counselor can connect callers with resources.
The center also offers chat services via smartphone, tablet and computer Monday through Friday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. for Long Island residents.