On Saturday I volunteered at the first of its kind Hurricane of Hope held in Arlington Heights. This day devoted to raising awareness and breaking stigmas about suicide, depression and anxiety, was sponsored by Township School District 214 in conjunction with the support of several community agencies–including Elyssa’s Mission. The event was spearheaded by two seniors, Elizabeth Bailey from Buffalo Grove High School and Jessica Giambarberee from Prospect High School, both of whom also spoke at the event. Giambarberee revealed a long list of stressors that she has had, and still has, to face, yet explained how she has managed to remain positive and find healthy means of coping. She certainly understands, however, how depression can cloud one’s thinking and cause a teenager to believe that suicide is the only answer.

That certainly was the case for Bailey, who bravely recounted her ongoing struggle with depression and her resulting attempts to take her own life. At one point she shared how her mother begged her–in none other than the hospital room where she was confined following a suicide attempt–not to kill herself. At that low-point in her life Bailey calmly replied, “I have to.” I am certain I was not the only person in that auditorium to choke back tears. Bailey has since gotten the help that she desperately needed, and knows that she has a purpose in life: “You can use your story to change someone else’s life. That’s very motivational.” Motivational she was, along with many others that day.

The event’s keynote speaker, Harper College adjunct professor Frank J. Klawitter, stressed the fact that suicide brings “permanent consequences for temporary circumstances. “ He told the familiar story of an old man busily throwing starfish that had washed up onto shore back into the sea, well aware of the fact that, while he cannot save them all, he can certainly make a difference for those starfish that he does touch. Klawitter’s message accurately reflected the Hurricane of Hope’s purpose: not to solve the problem of teenage suicide, but to begin the process of breaking down stereotypes and stigmas within District 214’s community, one person at a time. By making the decision to implement the SOS Signs of Suicide® program in all district schools, and by continuing to host education-raising days such as this one, District 214 is on the right path toward educating students, parents and community members about depression and suicide, and working to ensure that at-risk teens get the help and support that they need.

–Jodie Segal, Director of Education