After his son's death by suicide in September, Chris Coluccio channeled his heartbreak into what he calls “good grief.”
“What good can we do from this kind of grief?” he asked himself, searching for a way to honor his son Christopher Coluccio's legacy. 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, spotlighted a dire need in his community: that parents need to talk with their kids about their mental health.
Spurred by the outpouring of community support his family received and a nearly $55,000 donation from the Johnny Mac Foundation, Coluccio launched 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 the way that we talk about suicide, the way families communicate, whether we can make it more open." Coluccio said he wants to strip away the stigma surrounding mental health and offer struggling families with needed resources to cope with tragic loss.
Christopher Coluccio was a wrestler who loved to make people laugh, his dad said. He said his son was a bright kid who enjoyed playing video games.
The teen's death was one of at least two suicides in the community, which prompted the Bayport-Blue Point school district to hold workshops for district parents and guardians with the help of the Family Service League, said Robyn Berger-Gaston, a division director at the nonprofit, which provides counseling services for children and families. The district held a talk to discuss risks for suicide, anxiety and depression earlier this month. Future sessions to discuss age-related stressors and ways to address them will be held in April, according to an email the district sent to families.
Berger-Gaston said that broaching the subject of suicide and depression can be difficult for parents, but it's important that they do. Additionally, they should discuss their own emotions to show their children that it's OK to discuss and grapple with their feelings and that life has its ups and downs, she said. Chipping away at the stigma will make it easier to come forward when they're struggling, added Kathy Rosenthal, a programs vice president for the league. According to the most recent data from New York State Department of Health, 39 people ages 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 the way it is forever,” she said.
The Christopher Coluccio Foundation will host its first fundraiser, a pingpong 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 "underachiever award" for students who, like his son, he said, 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 pingpong tournament, which his son loved to play, because it’s something that can be played regardless of skill or age and can “bring families together.”
Coluccio said his goal is to try to come up with some ideas that will allow "us to broach this difficult conversation in ways that were easier.”
“Our first mission is to try to get parents and children talking about this, to stop these things from happening, to create events that are more approachable to make this a more approachable topic.”
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-8255.
Where to find help
The Long Island Crisis Center, based in Bellmore, has a 24/7 crisis hotline at 516-679-1111 where a counselor can connect callers with resources.
The center also offers chat services through a smartphone, tablet and computer Monday through Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. for Long Island residents.