In 2018, 19-year-old Pleasantville resident Brian Halloran took his own life. The tragedy prompted his family to create Break the Hold (BTH), an organization that brings attention to the pervasive spread of mental illness, especially among teenagers and young adults, and provide educational programming and resources.
That same year, BTH organized its first Into the Light Walk in Pleasantville, stepping off at 4 a.m. This year, the walk is this Sunday, June 13, starting at Pleasantville High School, where Halloran graduated.
“Mental health is a dark place and the walk is symbolic of walking out of darkness as a community and into the light,” said Brian Halloran, founder of BTH and father of Brian.
The second walk was held in 2019, but last year it was canceled due to COVID-19.
This year, the community has the option of walking in person with COVID-19 protocols in place or participating in a virtual walk on Instagram. Because COVID restrictions have recently been lifted by New York State, the walk can now accommodate up to 500 people.
Shortly after the onset of the pandemic last year, BTH e-mails and phone calls tripled.
“With the pandemic things have gotten exponentially worse,” Halloran said. “We hear stories of struggles all the time and people are asking for assistance.”
BTH’s website lists resources for families and individuals seeking help. The nonprofit organization’s key contribution has been introducing a mental health curriculum to area schools that is integrated into health classes.
BTH, which operates under the umbrella of the Mental Health Association of Westchester, sponsors instruction known as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in Pleasantville High School and Alexander Hamilton High School in Elmsford.
BTH pays for certified instructors to teach the classes in the fifth, sixth and ninth grades.
“Educators have been super-cooperative,” Halloran said. “We should be teaching mental health and emotional wellness at a young age to prevent future mental care and treatment. If we get to them early, we can help solve lifelong issues.”
In 2019 and in 2020, BTH awarded scholarships in Halloran’s son’s name to graduating Pleasantville High School seniors who volunteered their time for mental health advocacy.
Halloran said school districts, including Ossining and Byram Hills, are interested in incorporating DBT instruction.
“We’ve also been approached by a number of different schools but the pandemic slowed the momentum,” he said.
The Into the Light Walk is one of two main fundraisers BTH holds, along with a gala typically held in February. Halloran estimated that both events typically raise about $75,000 a year combined.
Last year, the gala was also canceled, but BTH received a grant from the Westchester Youth Bureau for $50,000, an annual sum that runs through next year. Halloran said he hopes BTH becomes an independent nonprofit by the end of the year.
It also receives donations from schools and organizations. After a student suicide at James Madison University a couple of years ago, funds were raised for BTH. In 2019, Knollwood Country Club in Elmsford hosted the Youth Suicide Prevention Fundraiser and raised $100,000.
Halloran said suicide has increasingly captured the attention of the public. For youngsters 10 to 24 years old, the number one killer is car accidents followed by suicide.
“People see what the need is and how trends have been negative for some time,” he said.
Registration for the Into the Light Walk and other information about Break the hold can be found at https://bthbreakthehold.org/event/into-the-light-walk-2021.