Brooke DiPalma ’18 Leads the Charge on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness with “P.S. I Love You”
This senior took a personal tragedy and found a path forward in helping others
Brooke DiPalma had just turned 14 when her father, Joseph, dropped her off at school one day in West Islip, New York. As she left the car to head off to class, he said, “I love you.” Later that day she received news that would change the course of her life: Joseph had committed suicide.
“It was a shock,” said DiPalma, who recalled her father’s accomplishments. He was retired from the New York Police Department and an active member of the family’s Long Island community. “My Dad was a total family guy. He was so positive; every day, he told me he was proud of me.”
Just months after her father’s death DiPalma decided to use his positivity to find a path forward. She gave a talk at her high school and started the “P.S. I Love You” campaign in February 2011. Working with school officials, the designated “P.S. I Love You” day became the second Friday in February—close enough to Valentine’s Day to carry the message of love, but with a different focus.
The effort began as a way to promote kindness in small but meaningful ways. DiPalma and her friends started writing positive messages on Post-It notes and leaving them all over school. “The messages were as simple as ‘you’re needed,’ or ‘you’re beautiful just the way you are,’” Di Palma recounted. “It was all about bringing happiness to people. I wanted people to feel the love I felt from my Dad that last day.”
Soon DiPalma made a YouTube video about her father’s suicide. Within a week, it had 12,000 views, and she found herself being interviewed by NBC and other media outlets. That led to something DiPalma never expected: The “P.S. I Love You” campaign was picked up by other schools. Today, more than 100 schools across the country participate in this suicide prevention and kindness effort and the video has been viewed more than 80,000 times. DiPalma is proud of this groundswell, but also of how the project has become about promoting mental health awareness; she speaks at schools as well.
DiPalma is very forthright about her dad’s suicide and really wants to shed the stigma associated with it. “Mental health issues are coming into the forefront,” she explained. “And I’m glad my work is helping. Younger kids really run with promoting kindness while middle and high school students have contacted me about issues with bullying and depression. I’ve heard from parents about how their kids are struggling. We can help people to overcome hard times.”
At Marist, “P.S I Love You” is celebrated through a week of campus events, including writing Post-It note affirmations, wearing purple (the color for suicide prevention), free hugs, and a “Love Out Loud” concert. But DiPalma is not resting on her laurels. The senior has big plans for what the campaign can be after she graduates and is looking toward organizing a panel discussion on mental health and working the key messages of the campaign into courses, too. “I see a lot of possibilities,” she said. “Students can learn about creating mental health nonprofit organizations. Courses can explore some of these issues; there’s so much that could be done and Marist could be the model for how other schools carry ‘P.S. I Love You’ forward.”
DiPalma takes real joy from what she has created. “My Dad and I were so close,” she explained. “He loved me and I miss him and this is how I cope. I really believe he is on this journey to help others with me.”
For more information on the "P.S. I Love You" initiative, please visit psiloveyouday.net.
“P.S. I Love You” events at Marist:
Tuesday, 2/6: Cupcake Tuesday and purple food at Valley Cafe
Location: Dining Hall/Caberet
Chef Anthony has an all-purple menu planned and purple-frosted cupcakes will be available.
Wednesday, 2/7: Free Hugs From Frankie
Frankie the Fox will be walking around Marist giving out free hugs to promote kindness.
Thursday 2/8: Open Mic Night, “Love Out Loud Concert”
Location: Student Center 3101, 8:30-10:30pm
Students can perform a poem or song and dedicate to someone that they lost or someone who inspires them.
Friday 2/9: P.S. I Love You Day
On this day, we ask everyone to wear purple in an effort to promote kindness, anti-bullying, and mental health awareness. Ultimately, says Brooke DiPalma, “The more love we spread, the less bullying will occur, and the more lives we can save.”
Located on the banks of the historic Hudson River and at its Florence, Italy branch campus, Marist College is a comprehensive, independent institution grounded in the liberal arts. Its mission is to “help students develop the intellect, character, and skills required for enlightened, ethical, and productive lives in the global community of the 21st century.” Marist is consistently recognized for excellence by The Princeton Review (Colleges That Create Futures and The Best 381 Colleges), U.S. News & World Report (9th Best Regional University/North), Kiplinger’s Personal Finance (“Best College Values”), and others. Though now independent, Marist remains committed to the ideals handed down from its founders, the Marist Brothers: excellence in education, a sense of community, and a commitment to service. Marist educates approximately 5,000 traditional-age undergraduate students and 1,400 adult and graduate students in 47 undergraduate majors and 14 graduate programs, including fully online MBA, MPA, MS, and MA degrees. www.marist.edu