As the Barrington community mourned five suicides in the past three years, one organization has worked to get residents talking about the problem plaguing the affluent suburb.
School officials, parents, and mental health professionals aren't sure what's causing the outbreak of suicides, but it's clear something isn't right.
After the fourth suicide occurred in 2009, a group of students, parents, and other community members formed HERE in Barrington to address the issue.
"Quite a few forces in the school district came together to recognize the fact that this is a community problem," said Deanna Griffin, co-chairman of HERE in Barrington. "We don't even know what it is that's wrong, but what can we do to try and stop what appears to be an epidemic of student suicides."
HERE, which stands for help, encouragement, resources, and education, is a coalition that promotes positive mental health.
Courtney Griffin, a student chairman of the organization and Barrington High School senior, said the main goal of HERE is to start the conversation about mental health and provide available resources to anyone in need of help.
"The goal is to make people feel more comfortable talking openly about mental health issues, so if they feel like they have one, they can feel comfortable finding that in themselves and going to talk to someone," Griffin said.
HERE spreads its message primarily by holding large-scale community events. This year, the coalition organized HEREfest before the first Barrington High School football game of the season to celebrate an entire year of no suicides in District 220.
However, just nine days before the celebration, another Barrington High School student took his life by stepping in front of a Metra train. A Barrington School District employee also committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest two days before the event.
Griffin said students are no longer shocked by the loss of life.
"You never expect this to happen, but we were not surprised when another suicide happened," she said. "It kept beating everyone down and down again."
Griffin's mother, Deanna Griffin, said she agreed the community is suffering.
"People are hugely upset," Deanna Griffin said. "On behalf of fellow parents who have lost a child, we don't want anyone to have to go through that, much less a neighbor or a friend.
"We have seen the impact that it has on the kids, on our students. Once there's an empty seat, it leaves a very lasting impression on the kids."
HERE leaders say the organization has accomplished a great deal in its short lifespan and is going to continue to work to provide hope to many who struggle with depression.
"I'm not sure a year ago people were really open to talking about depression or mental illness, and what this has done is it's forced a discussion, it's forced awareness," Deanna Griffin said. "There are lots of successes out there. There are people who have been given courage to seek treatment, just by the fact that the conversation has started. "
To get involved or view a list of mental health resources in Barrington, go to the HERE in Barrington's website.
Next week, visit Barrington Patch to read Part Two of the series, "Suicide Outbreak." Barrington mental health professionals will talk about the issue and explain how parents can spot warning signs for depression and suicidal thoughts in their children.