Here’s how 6 Staten Island moms are working to support mental health for area youth

STATEN ISLAND, NY — Six Staten Island mothers are working to support the mental health of area youth by raising awareness about the issue, one event at a time.

On Wednesday night, the devoted mothers, each of whom has a daughter who is a freshman in college, hosted an event titled “Am I OK?” — bringing together dozens of community members with mental health professionals at the Central Family Life Center in Stapleton.

“All of our daughters are in their first year of college. My daughter… we dropped her off on campus on August 13th. From August 13 to November 11, there were three young women on your campus who committed suicide,” Tafe said. “None of our kids go to school in New York, so every time there’s an incident, we’re all hundreds of miles away from our kids.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, according to national statistics.

And since all of their kids are currently home for Christmas break, the six moms (Cherise Tafe, Melissa Johnson, Slyvia Bryd, Lajuana Archibald, Kathy Lewis, and Linda Griggs) decided to come together and create the “Am I OK?” movement to address mental health issues.

The six said they will try to organize as many events as they can to raise awareness about mental health and at-risk youth.

“We plan to do this as often as possible, because we fund it ourselves, so we’re trying to do as many events and raise awareness,” Johnson said. “We are trying to bring the children together and involve them, so that in this way they feel like they have a family.”

Five of the six mothers who organized the “Am I OK?” event are shown here, from left to right: Melissa Johnson, Sylvia Byrd, Lajuana Archibald, Cherise Tafe and Kathy Lewis. (Priya Shahi/ Staten Island Forward)priya shahi

The event began with audience participation in an activity led by Tracyavon Ford, a New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Mindfulness Teacher, involving deep breaths, calming movements and words of affirmation.

One audience member, who shared that they lost their son to suicide, said they felt the exercise was a “moving” experience.

After attendees came together through the mindfulness activity, Dr. Charmaine Z. Dodd and Dr. Paul Archibald, who specialize in mental health, dove into a discussion about the stigma surrounding the topic.

Some in the audience shared that mental health struggles can be seen as a weakness in Black and Latino communities, and they are often expected to “stick it out.”

“We have to raise awareness (about suicide). It’s not a rarity, and it’s something we can take care of,” Dodd said.

Mental health experts discussed understanding depression and how it can take many forms, including substance abuse, headaches, stomach problems and lack of sleep.

“We have to take charge of our health,” Archibald emphasized. “Mental health is not negative. We all have a state of mental health. I’m just trying to get us to agree to talk about our mental health.”

He demonstrated the difference between mental health and mental illness, and how one can head towards mental illness if they don’t monitor and care for their mental health, especially after experiencing mental health problems or trauma.

Dodd compared the progression towards mental illness with the progression of diabetes.

“Sometimes people are born with diabetes, but sometimes it is acquired. And there are usually signs along the way that you’re heading in that direction. You may start to feel a little sleepy after each meal. Certain things you can’t eat anymore because they don’t make you feel very good. It’s not until you get to the point where you can’t function…your body can’t function like it normally does, that’s when it becomes a disease,” he explained.

Byrd spoke about the mission behind the work of “Am I OK?” movement.

“We want to make sure that our young people and people who are struggling to know if they are okay or not, are okay,” he explained. “If we can give them the tools they need to be well, or someone they can turn to for help, then we will feel successful.”


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