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By Elizabeth Brasher, president of the Mental Health Association of the North Shore

It has been seven months now since Evanston lost a young fifth-grader grader to suicide. 

Our community grieved. 

The school, parents and community were in shock over how such a young person could come to a point where death seemed preferable to life. 

Many personally asked themselves, “Could this really have been suicide?” Many found it far easier to believe this was a cruel prank gone very wrong – anything but believe a young, wonderful child saw no way out other than to take his own life. 

Sadly, after intense investigation on several fronts, this tragic death was indeed ruled a suicide.  Before February ended, two more Illinois children, both aged 11, also took their own lives.  Illinois had seen in one week more than its statistical yearly average of pre-adolescent suicides. 

As we move into the beginning of a new school year it seems an appropriate time to remember this young life by exploring ways to identify signs of depression and possible suicide in children and learn avenues to take to help.  Through education and dialogue we as parents, teachers, counselors, and community can make a difference and impact lives. 

 Let’s Talk About It!: Youth Depression and Suicide, A Community Discussion is the title of a three-part series of community forums on youth depression and suicide now being held in Evanston.   The community is invited to attend and be actively involved by listening to and asking questions of expert panels of mental health care professionals, educators, school officials, and community organizations that work with our youth.  All forums will include discussions of relevant topics such as bullying, shame and resiliency, how to talk to your children, strengthening family relationships, and how to get help close to home.

The first of the forums was held on Sept. 23. The second of the Let’s Talk About It! forums will begin at 7 p.m. tonight, Sept. 30,  at Haven Middle School, 2417 Prairie Ave., featuring keynote speaker Carl Hampton, MSW, LCSW of the Family Institute at Northwestern University. The final discussion will be at 9 a.m. on Oct. 17  at Martin Luther King Lab School,

2424 Lake St.

, and will  feature keynote speaker Kesha S. Burch, MA, LCPC in private practice and member of the Advisory Board for Clinical Counseling at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

 The free Let’s Talk About It! community forums are spearheaded by the Mental Health Association of the North Shore (MHANS) and co-sponsored by a coalition of community organizations, including: Boocoo, Erika’s Lighthouse, Evanston/Skokie School Districts 65 and 202, Family Focus, Family Institute at Northwestern University, Mental Health Board of Evanston, NAMI, Robinson Design, Y.O.U. Youth Organization Umbrella, McGaw YMCA and the YWCA. There will be
materials from each organization available for attendees including a new free pamphlet from MHANS, Sometimes I Don’t Feel So Good … for young children and their families to identify signs of depression in pre-adolescent children, and the very popular new Parent’s Handbook on Childhood and Adolescent Depression, also provided free of charge, by Erika’s Lighthouse.

I hope that the community will come out and join in this effort to bring the issue of youth depression and suicide into the light and learn its signs and how to help.  We can make a difference if we just…

              …talk about it!