Break the Hold: Pace Alumni Work on Suicide Prevention


Jolina Halloran

Pace alumni Brian and Jolina Halloran began Break the Hold to offer education and resources on mental health and suicide prevent.

Callie Anderson, News Editor

After 19-year-old Brian Thomas Halloran died from depression by suicide at the beginning of his second semester of college, the Halloran family came together to form the Break the Hold Foundation (BTH). This foundation, with the same initials as Brian Thomas Halloran, is aimed at helping others and removing the stigma around mental health and suicide.

Brian Thomas Halloran’s mother, Jolina Halloran, is the advisor in the Pforzheimer Honors College. She founded BTH along with her husband Brian Halloran, both of who graduated from Pace.

“We, as a family, decided that we would not run and hide,” said Jolina Halloran. “Unfortunately, shame is a big part of depression and suicide… The main thing that we try to convey is that my son could be anybody’s son. He was active, popular, intelligent, socially involved and an athlete in high school. All seemed good, but it was not, and we did not know to the extent to which he suffered.”

Because of their personal experience, the Hallorans have emphasized the slogan “Recognize and Refer” through BTH. This slogan stresses the importance of recognizing warning signs for a person in need and referring them to an adult.

“It is not something for one person to handle on their own, particularly not a high school or college student,” said Jolina Halloran.

BTH seeks to provide the community with the resources necessary to decrease the number of suicides, create an empathetic community with open communication, and improve the quality of life for the community as a whole.

One resource BTH established is a free referral service. Because it can be difficult to find the right help to address mental health issues, BTH has a number of clinicians that provide assessment and counseling in order to refer people to the help they need.

BTH also intends to prevent suicide through educational programming. Both the Pleasantville School District and the Elmsford School District are working with BTH to implement Skillfully Training Emotion Problem Solving Skills for Adolescents (STEPS-A). This is a curriculum based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT helps a person develop emotional problem solving, interpersonal, distress tolerance, and mindfulness skills. STEPS-A is based on this therapy, but is designed as a curriculum for adolescents. BTH has helped certify and sponsor instructors as well as helping develop the curriculum.

“All 5th graders and 9th graders receive approximately 16 hours of DBT Steps-A instruction each academic year,” said Jolina Halloran.

Also in local schools, BTH hosts a Senior Transition Meeting for high school seniors transitioning to college and the workforce. BTH has also organized parent workshops and basketball and volleyball tournaments.

Recently, BTH participated in the Harris Project Co-Occurring Disorders (CODA) Walk at Pace

Jolina Halloran
Break the Hold hosted a screening of Suicide: The Ripple Effect at the Jacob Burns Film Center earlier this year.

Along with the referral service and educational programming, BTH holds community events throughout the year. In June, BTH hosts “Into the Light” walks where participants walk from the dark of early morning into the light when day breaks. This walk symbolizes how even when people are in a dark place, there is light ahead.

“All walkers begin the walk in the dark, carrying candles,” said Jolina Halloran. “It is quite emotional. Then we light lanterns that are launched into the dark sky, 19 of them to memorialize my departed son’s 19 years on earth. 1,000 walkers then emerge into the light halfway through the walk. It is a beautiful scene.”

BTH has also sponsored free film screenings and book discussions. This year, BTH has hosted screenings of Resilience and Suicide: The Ripple Effect. At the end of September, BTH hosted a community discussion with Dr. Jennifer Ashton, who is a Good Morning America correspondent and author of the book Life After Suicide.

Altogether, BTH’s work will increase awareness of suicide and risk factors along with offering resources to prevent these issues from spiraling out of control.

“Things can change, things will change, but we have to take an active role in our emotional health,” said Jolina Halloran. “It is work, but well worth it. Reach out. People are ready to listen.”

Jolina Halloran
Break the Hold’s Brian and Jolina Halloran stand with Dr. Jennifer Ashton at a community discussion event in September.