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High School Students Learn Importance of ‘Shedding the Shame’

More than three years later, Jeff Kavovit still hasn’t come to terms with his brother’s suicide. But, as he told an auditorium filled with Hendrick Hudson High School students, discussing the tragedy and using it to help others has strengthened him and his family.

“The more I use that word ‘suicide,’ the more I talk about my brother, that doesn’t get easier,” Kavovit said. “But it does get easier to talk about what happened.”

Kavovit — whose younger brother, Rob, a Yorktown High School graduate, committed suicide at 45 years old — visited Hendrick Hudson to share his message and highlight the importance of mental health on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. He and his family founded an organization, 15 For Life, shortly after Rob’s death in March 2021, funneling their grief into a mission. Their goal has been to normalize the conversation around mental health.

“We want to shed the shame and let people know that it’s OK to ask for help,” Kavovit said.

The Kavovit family never knew Rob needed that support. The youngest of five brothers and fifth of six siblings, Rob was a three-time All-American during his playing days at Syracuse University. He later became a physical therapist, coach, husband and father, who was married with two young children at the time of his death.

Shortly after, the family realized it needed to admit what happened in order to properly grieve and to help save others. Jeff Kavovit said too many people were like his brother, “suffering in silence.” He told Hendrick Hudson students that the average person waits 11 years to ask others for help when they are struggling.

The message that mental health matters has been an emphasis at Hendrick Hudson. In September 2021, the high school became an ambassador school for 15 For Life. The school’s athletic trainer, Meg Greiner, soon after started a club, Sailors Supporting Sailors, in the spring of 2022. Now, there are two to three dozen student-athletes who participate on average each year. The club meets twice a month to talk or do an activity designed to reduce stress levels.

Greiner and principal Lauren Scollins arranged for Kavovit to visit as part of the school’s recognition of Mental Health Awareness month. The school also recently had a speaker from Minding Your Mind, an organization dedicated to ending the stigma and destructive behaviors associated with mental health issues.

“We talk a lot about, ‘How do you step away from your stress when academics or athletics or whatever you have going on has become a lot to handle?’” Greiner said.

“It’s important to be able to admit when you have a problem,” Kavovit said. “I still struggle every day with what happened with my family. But it’s important to stop the embarrassment and the shame and be able to admit that you need help.”