Youth suicide, depression trend prompts local discussion

Amie Ninh

After a tragic series of local adolescent suicides last year, Evanston residents have shown they are paying attention to the growing issue of youth depression and suicide.

In partnership with community members, schools and organizations, the Mental Health Association of the North Shore presented a panel of five experts to lead a discussion on youth depression and suicide Wednesday night at Chute Middle School. The panel, entitled “Let’s Talk About It! Youth Depression and Suicide, A Community Discussion”, was the first of three such forums this fall to discuss the topic.

“What we were hearing from parents and from the community was a real concern,” MHANS Board President Elizabeth Brasher said. “You don’t think about young people that age having those sorts of problems, but they do, so we just want to help educate people so they recognize that.”

Brasher said the catalyst to start the forum was the suicide of 10-year-old student Aquan Lewis at Oakton Elementary School in February. The forum focuses on the 8- to 11-year-old age group, a demographic often overlooked in dicussions of depression and suicide, MHANS Board Member Sue Laue said.

“That’s an age group there isn’t much information about or resources,” she said.

Though only the first year of the event, Brasher said the coalition of organizations and individuals working on the forum allows the community to become acquainted with the mental health resources that the city provides.

Organizations that collaborated with MHANS included the City of Evanston Community Health Division, Erika’s Lighthouse, Family Focus and Family Institute at Northwestern University, among others.

“There are a lot of wonderful organizations in the Evanston area that offer very positive alternatives and activities for our young people,” she said. “And we felt this was a great opportunity to bring these organizations together and let the community know what’s out here.”

Keynote panelist Dr. David Clark, of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, laid the foundation for the discussion by presenting facts and statistics about depression and suicide.

“Most people don’t know suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States,” he said. “It’s an important public health problem we don’t spend much time educating ourselves about.”

Representatives from District 65 and Evanston Township High School spoke on the panel, in addition to a board member from MHANS and a board member from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Jean Jorgensen, a board member of NAMI, shared her experiences as a parent whose child was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at a young age.

Jorgensen said there are not enough resources in schools for children with depression problems.

“If we can talk about cancer, let’s talk about depression,” she said.

MHANS also created and distributed a pamphlet at the forum for parents and students to better understand the signs of depression and how to respond to those signs and symptoms.

Brasher said themes of the forum series include how to recognize signs of depression to prevent suicide, how to talk to your child about depression, where to go for help and the shame and resilience that accompanies depression.

Brasher said bullying, a potential reason for youth suicide, has become more vicious with new avenues of technology.

“Kids can’t hide nowadays,” she said. “There’s no such thing as coming home and getting away from the problems.”

The next forums will be held on Sept. 30 at Haven Middle School and Oct. 17 at Martin Luther King Laboratory School and will include different sets of panelists.

“It’s opening up the dialogue and clearing away the fog and smoke and bringing out the discussion about depression into the open,” Brasher said. “Part of the fear is not understanding what they’re dealing with.”

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