The tragic suicide of Officer Joseph Comegna, the school resource officer at Eastern Technical High School in Essex, last week shocked the community and reinvigorated important conversations on mental health and suicide prevention.
For White Marsh resident William York, the loss of Ofc. Comegna hits close to home. His 20-year-old son Joshua, an Eastern Tech graduate, took his own life in July.
Despite his immeasurable grief, York said the loss of Josh inspired him to do more to help those who are dealing with depression and other mental health issues as a way to keep his son’s memory alive.
He and his wife created the Joshua York Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to suicide awareness and prevention through outreach, education, and improved access to mental healthcare, a project which York calls “his life mission.”
The foundation’s purpose is also its motto: to “strengthen lives with love.” Through fundraising and events, the organization’s goal is to reach out to vulnerable communities, such as the LGBTQ individuals, college students,
and military veterans, and provide them with low-cost, and oftentimes live-saving, mental health care and other resources.
Starting spring of next year, the foundation will be awarding a scholarship to an Eastern Tech student in Josh’s name. To be eligible, ETHS students must write an essay on how they have helped somebody or how they have been helped.
Another initiative, he said, is to establish emergency response teams for families and friends dealing with the immediate effects of suicide along with an emergency fund for those families to help with travel, hotel, food and other emergency costs.
York explained that suicidal thoughts can affect anybody, from his seemingly happy son to a wellloved school resource officer.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people a year.
Recognizing the signs and getting the individual help as quickly as possible can make all the difference.
“If you see a loved one acting differently, such as using alcohol or drugs, withdrawing from activities, isolating themselves, talk to them. In the United States, one person dies every 12 minutes from suicide. I urge you to put down your phone, pay attention and connect with someone on a personal level, as simple as it sounds, it could help save someone’s life.”
The foundation hopes to spread this knowledge by bringing guest speakers and presentations about suicide prevention into classrooms all over the area. York has been speaking to the counselors at Eastern Tech and hopes to get these programs into the school.
“Oftentimes, people don’t see or pick up on the signs, especially in the male population. We want to ensure that every person that needs help gets it, by opening up a dialogue on suicide to let people know it’s okay to talk about it,” he said.
Another incidental impact of the foundation was the creation of the Facebook group called “Suicide prevention rocks”. Inspired by other online campaigns where people painted rocks with positive messages and left them in random places for strangers to find, York created his own to spread feel-good messages that promote self-love.
He couldn’t have predicted how quickly it grew. The group now boasts thousands of members in 25 countries representing all continents.
“It has become its own support group,” said York who explained that on the page people share their own experiences with suicide and help others that may be struggling.
York said that the foundation is just a continuation of how Josh lived his life. During his funeral, hundreds of people from all stages of his life showed up and shared how Josh had helped them in some way.
“I want to encourage people to act when they see someone in pain. Acting can be anything like just asking them ‘Hey, are you feeling okay?’”, he said. “It’s forming a simple connection.”
Although the organization isn’t even a year old yet, York said it has done vast amounts of good and that it will only grow from here.
“We have people who said we’ve helped them in so many ways, so we know we’re making a difference,” said York. “If we help one person, that’s good. If we help one person a day, it’s even better.”
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.