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'There is hope. There is help.'

Key message of Suicide Prevention Month is that people are not alone


Last updated 9/18/2019 at 4:18pm | View PDF

Jim Slonoff

Hinsdale Central's Jennifer Cave and Johanna Bruckner want students to know support is available if they are struggling with mental health issues or trying to help a friend who is.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is asking people to do one thing in recognition of Suicide Prevention Month in September - #BeThe1To.

Be the one to ... ask. Keep them safe. Be there. Help them connect. Follow up.

That can sound like a lot of responsibility. But Community Memorial Foundation in Hinsdale, which sent out this message to 1,000 recipients via email, wants people to know they aren't alone, whether they are considering taking their own life or trying to help someone who is.

"The message is clear. There is hope. There is help," said Greg DiDomenico, the foundation's president and CEO. "We have the resources in the community. Please reach out."

One of the most accessible resources is a national crisis text line that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week.

"Their mission is to take people from a hot moment to a moment of cool calm where there is some clarity around decision-making and support in that respect," said Beth Murin, communications coordinator for CMF. "A lot of the people at the crisis text line have told me it's not just individuals in crisis who use the text line, it's often a parent or a loved one who needs support and resources."

Those who text the word "NOW" will be connected to a trained volunteer crisis counselor in under five minutes. A supervisor moderates the free and confidential conversations and can alert authorities if the individual is a threat to themselves or someone else, Murin said.

The text line has generated more than 700 conversations from this community and the data shows it has saved lives.

"This statistic is just incredible - there have been 10 active rescues in our service area as a result of the crisis text line," DiDomenico said.

Another resource is The Living Room in La Grange, a walk-up facility where people with mental illness who are experiencing an increase in their symptoms can get free support.

More than 470 unique visitors went to the La Grange location in its first 2 1/2 years for a total of 1,500 visits and a return rate of 62 percent.

The Living Room, which also has a location in Broadview, is managed by NAMI Metro Suburban in partnership with Pillars Community Health and Healthcare Alternative Systems and supported by Community Memorial Foundation.

The foundation also supports Mental Health First Aid training for adults who want to learn more about good mental health and ways to intervene with someone who is exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. People can sign up for individual sessions, and groups can schedule training for one eight-hour or two four-hour days.

DiDomenico also encouraged people to visit the foundation's website at to view the Mental Health Resource Guide and the Youth Suicide Prevention public service announcement.

HC offers education, support

Relying on available support is an important message from social workers and school psychologists at Hinsdale Central High School.

They encourage students to be aware of signs of depression in themselves and others - and then to call in an adult for help.

"That's the biggest thing that we put to the students - you're not there to be their clinician or therapist," social worker Jennifer Cave said. "You're there to listen and not be judgmental and not to give advice.

"If you're hearing anything with suicide, understand that you are not going to tell them what to do, but look for an adult," she added. "Ask for that help and don't wait. Don't wait for the next day. Tell someone immediately."

School psychologist Johanna Bruckner agreed.

"It's a lot for you as a teen to handle sometimes and be the judge of that," she said. "That's where the adults have to come into play."

Even adults can hesitate to reach out for help, Cave said. She encouraged them to overcome that reluctance. "It's OK to ask for that help for their kids," she said. "Sometimes I get that from parents, too - that they would rather work within the family."

The school has not planned any activities specifically for Suicide Prevention Month, but mental health issues will be discussed in October, which is National Depression Education and Awareness Month.

The school uses part of a curriculum created by Erika's Lighthouse, a nonprofit dedicated to educating middle school and high school students about depression. Students will learn to recognize the symptoms of depression (depressed mood, irritability, loss of interest, agitation, changes in sleep, loss of appetite) in a classmate or friend.

"I think part of the message with Erika's Lighthouse is by looking for signs of depression, looking for signs of any mental health concerns, you are kind of preventing it from getting to that point of someone talking about taking their life," Bruckner said.

Educators also try to help students learn about other things they can do for good mental health, such as exercising, eating right and practicing mindfulness, paying particular notice to their feelings and behaviors.

"We all need to take care of ourselves," Bruckner said. "It isn't just for when you have signs for depression.

Counselors on the front lines

At the Counseling Center at The Community House, Bob Agnoli and his team treat many middle-schoolers and young adults who are struggling with anxiety. Learning the skills to address anxiety and depression early in life can help reduce the likelihood that someone will find themselves experiencing a mental health crisis later on.

"Part of it is learning coping skills," said Agnoli, director of mental health services. "Anxiety and stress are going to be there throughout their lifetime. Learning skills to manage those emotions at an earlier age that can then be brought into adulthood, I think that helps someone later in life."

Developing more tools at an earlier age can help young people avoid dangerous coping pitfalls, such as alcohol and drugs, when they get a little older.

Agnoli encouraged parents who are worried that their kids might be depressed or suicidal to ask them specific questions, such as "Are you feeling bad enough or crummy enough that sometimes you feel like you don't want to be here?"

"We need to acknowledge the fact that it exists and be comfortable talking about it," he said.

A yes answer doesn't necessarily mean the person is suicidal but suggests they would benefit from an assessment.

A person who has specific thoughts of harming themselves or a plan to commit suicide should be taken to an emergency room and possibly hospitalized, Agnoli said.

Whatever the individual shares, he recommends reacting with gratitude.

"I think the first response is thanking the person for being willing to share that," he said. "That's a vulnerable thing to share."

Agnoli agrees with the professionals at Central that everyone can benefit from paying attention to their mental health, practicing mindfulness and staying grounded.

"I think that's an important part for kids and even adults to be able to incorporate wellness into their routine, into their life, because without it, it's hard to live to your fullest potential," he said.

Jennifer Cave said many students visit a social worker at Central with concerns about a friend who is struggling with mental health issues.

Parents should be honest with their children about the struggles they face themselves, Agnoli stressed, as silence can lead kids to believe that they are the only ones going through a tough time.

He believes the taboo around mental health issues has begun to fade.

"Things have gotten better," Agnoli said. "People are willing to talk about those things."

DiDomenico agreed.

"It has become part of the kitchen table conversation," he said. "We hear people talking about it and reaching out to not just us but to our grantees as well."

That doesn't mean there isn't more to be done, and DiDomenico believes the key to success is a coordinated approach.

"We still have to work together," he said. "There is still work to be done around increasing awareness and demystifying the stigma - and we can't do that alone."

Author Bio

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 630-323-4422, ext. 104


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