Suicide prevention events seek to raise awareness

Throughout Lake County and the North Shore, events have been scheduled to draw attention to the causes of and possible ways to prevent suicide.

The Lake County Suicide Prevention Task Force will hold a free luncheon and seminar on the issue Sept. 8 during national Suicide Prevention Week, which is Sept. 7-13, a series of forums are scheduled on the topic of teen suicide and a fundraiser will be held to memorialize a young victim of mental illness and suicide.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a nationwide survey, 16 percent of high school students reported seriously considering suicide, the CDC reported.

Each year, 60 to 71 individuals in Lake County die of suicide, according to the Lake County Coroner’s Office. Those deaths outnumber homicides three to one, according to the coroner.

“People with major depression are 20 times more likely to kill themselves than the general population,” said Ted Testa, director of behavioral health services for the Lake County Health Department and a member of the Lake County Suicide Prevention Task Force. “When people get depressed and then when it turns to hopelessness, now you’ve got a lethal mix.”

The drive to do something also informed the coming Women in The Know Series in Lake County. Women in The Know brings women together to discuss topics from health care to genetically modified food.

As Lake Forest resident Aime Marks planned her next forums, friends and colleagues suggested she focus on teenage suicide.

“Would it be difficult? Yes,” Marks said. “But it’s timely and it’s important.”

Marks has scheduled three forums on teenage suicide for September, October and November. Gail Cutler, a former Highland Park resident who lost her daughter to bipolar disease, will speak at one of the forums.

Cutler’s message: Mental illness is a real disease. It can lead to suicide, but it also can be prevented through community education, awareness and compassion.

Suicide, especially among teenagers, has hit home in the past decade, Marks said, referring to three Lake Forest High School students’ deaths in 2012. All three students were killed by trains and one was officially ruled a suicide.

“It’s a frightening piece of news for anyone raising kids in a community that you feel is very safe,” said Marks, a mother of a 7-year-old. “We all like to think that we live in areas where we are raising well-adjusted teens. (The three deaths in 2012) hit us to the core.”

For nine years, Cutler, president and founder of Rebecca’s Dream, has been working with her husband, Norman, family and friends to educate the public about mental illness and suicide.

The Cutlers raised their daughter, Rebecca Lynn Cutler, in Highland Park. She graduated from North Shore County Day School in Wilmette and received a bachelor’s degree in English from Lake Forest College. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was in her 20s.

Rebecca Cutler was open about her condition and worked as an editor and reporter at Chicago Magazine.

At age 30, the disease took her life, her mother said.

“What we began and what we have continued to do is the education of the public,” said Cutler. That was Rebecca’s dream, she said.

“We have been successfully teaching the public that (depression and bipolar disorder) are bona fide diseases, that they can be treated, that it’s very important to seek proper medical health. Family, friends, colleagues are a tremendous support system and they, too, need to be educated to realize that,” she said.

Cutler said all too often, those struggling with mental illness and depression do not feel able to share their troubles.

“Sometimes people living with depression and bipolar are able to present a very happy face, and that brings us to the thought of Robin Williams,” she said.

The group also raises funds for research on mental illness and organizes programs for parents about teenage suicide.

Cutler said Marks’ series of forums will go far to inform residents about recognizing the signs of suicide in teenagers and in helping loved ones.

The Lake County Task Force has been working for three years to raise awareness of suicide prevention. The deaths of the three teens in 2012, along with suicides within the veteran community and the federal threat of closing some mental health hospitals prompted the formation of the task force, Testa said.

The task force has created a pamphlet in Spanish and English listing places where those who are contemplating suicide or who are worried about a depressed loved one can get help.

It holds meetings the second Monday of the month on the third floor of the Lake County Health Department in Waukegan. All are invited to the meetings and to the free Sept. 8 event.

“We want to invite the public to learn more about suicide to hear about some of the warning signs, and invite them to join the task force,” Testa said.

The task force wants the public to learn ways to prevent loved ones from considering suicide, he said. So, too, does Cutler.

‘”Be alert and aware of your loved one’s moods,” Cutler said. “If you feel that your friend or colleague or loved one is in danger of hurting themselves, get that person to an emergency room immediately or call for help right away. Read as much as you can about mental health, about depression, about bipolar (disorder). You have to be educated, and most of all maintain a compassionate understanding.”

Article source: Chicago Tribune.

2017-04-23T12:01:44+00:00