LIC nonprofit continues mission to tackle stigma of suicide
By Evan Triantafilidis
The 5:24 a.m. sunrise on the morning of Saturday, June 11 served as a symbolic light at the end of the tunnel for New Yorkers rallying to break the stigma of suicide.
More than 100 people in bright yellow t-shirts walked along the waterfront in Long Island City for the annual Solace Sunrise 5K Walk/Run last weekend. During the event, Solace House, a Queens-based nonprofit organziation that provides free counseling services for people who are in suicidal distress, raised over $50,000 for their cause.
Two years into a global pandemic that has called for residents to social distance and shelter in place, Danielle Gallagher, director of operations at Solace House, says the demand for mental health treatment continues to increase.
“There’s been an increase in clientele,” Gallagher explained. “Isolation and loneliness have always been triggers to mental health issues.”
She says the nonprofit acts as a resource for people who are not yet ready for hospital care, but are still in need of someone to talk to. Mental health issues have only been exacerbated with stories of COVID-related losses and loss of employment, she adds.
First launched in 2006 in Dublin, Ireland by Irish politician Joan Freeman, the Pieta House has become an Irish household name with 20 locations and over 200 therapists across the European country.
In 2014, Freeman chose the New York Irish Center in Long Island City to house the United State’s first branch of the Pieta House, which has since evolved into the Solace House.
Following a one-year pilot program that saw the need for the nonprofit’s presence in the area, the Solace House has been offering bereavement counseling, family support, and workshops at its national headquarters in LIC and their other New York location in Yonkers.
From what started in 2015 with just one therapist and approximately 15 clients, Solace House now has six therapists who serve about 75 clients.
Several other Solace Sunrise Walks took place this year in the Catskills, the Bronx, Rockland County, as well as San Antonio, Texas and an upcoming walk in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
“Our goal would be to have a Solace House everywhere,” Gallagher said. “We would love to be in every city, because we provide a service that you go to when you’re having suicidal thoughts.”
For Queens resident Tara Mullaney, a bi-weekly bereavement group organized by the Solace House helps her cope with the loss of her husband, James, who took his life in January 2020.
Waking up before 4 a.m. on the morning of the Sunrise Walk/Run 5K, she remembered her husband—an Irishman who she was married to for nearly seven years, who had a passion for welding and World Rally Championship rally car racing.
“It helps to know that there are people who are struggling with the same thing,” Mullaney said. “You always think there’s something you could have done. But when you hear other people tell their story, and they’re like ‘I should have done something,’ and you as an outsider are like ‘no, obviously you couldn’t have done something,’ that really helps you with your own processing… realizing you couldn’t have done something for the person who you’ve lost.”
Tommy DiMisa, founder of Philanthropy in Phocus, a radio and podcast show, was on hand to walk from darkness to light on Sunday morning, while also shining a light on the nonprofit sector. He walked in last year’s Sunrise Walk/Run and continues to advocate for nonprofits in New York City.
“We need to end the stigma,” DiMisa said. “We need to find compassion and love for each other. We all go through dark times.”
DiMisa, who had been up since 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning, says his passion is to amplify the messages of the 36,000 nonprofits in New York City that do special work like the Solace House.
“If we think in terms of how we just have to look out for somebody, and that everybody needs a little support, versus, how much stuff can I gather or how much money can I get… I think the world’s a better place if we do the former versus the latter.”