DISCLAIMER: This article discusses suicide prevention and mental health efforts, readers sensitive to either topic please note.
In America in 2020, we lost 45,979 individuals to suicide — a staggering, devastating number that has been undoubtedly exacerbated by COVID-19 and isolation. But, there are many working to turn this tide. Every September we observe Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness around suicide risks, prevalence and prevention. As well as share the message that these efforts can help remove the stigma and bring light to those in the dark.
One prominent advocate of this cause is Amy Kartheiser, the founder and president of Under the Same Sky — an organization that partners with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and supports their Healing Conversations program. Founded only a year ago, the organization has seen the depth of need surrounding the topic of suicide — with people from across the country contacting Kartheiser to speak candidly about their struggle in the wake of losing a loved one. The organization’s aim is to be “more robust” in response to this need, offering persistent, long-term help to people on the prolonged road to healing.
As crucial as awareness is, it is only one tier of a larger system needed to effectively tackle the stigma of suicide. Another component is community. “You surround yourself with people who have gone through something similar. It taught me to be more open about my situation and the power of community and connection. It allowed other people to feel like they felt safe and to vocalize how they have struggled or lost a loved one to suicide.”
As a way to recognize this necessary awareness, Better has compiled a list of organizations — both local and national — that are working to fill the gaps. Cataloged below are institutions eager to serve anyone, whether you are looking for support or looking to offer support.
One of the most prolific organizations for suicide prevention and mental health education in the country is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For years, chapters in all 50 states have championed the public conversation surrounding suicide. Moreover, critical to their mission is supporting the families and communities who have lost loved ones to suicide.
Their website is also equipped with a breadth of resources, including information for those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide or families and friends who need help navigating their loved one’s journey with mental health — to name only a few.
And for those who are looking for tangible ways to help spread suicide awareness, AFSP also sponsors in-person events and volunteer opportunities. Their ongoing series Out of the Darkness Community Walks are held throughout the year, with one in Chicagoland this month — the series encourages real connection through transparent conversation and community. For additional information on volunteering, upcoming events, or for access to resources, visit the AFSP website.
As previously mentioned, this partner of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is wholly committed to Healing Conversations, education, advocacy and awareness. Founded in 2021, the group believes in creating “a safe space for honesty and grief” for those impacted by suicide. “Because healing from suicide, in particular, is a very different death that [is hard to] comes to terms with it,” Amy Kartheiser said. To support the vital work they do, visit Kartheiser’s shop, where proceeds go toward UTSS efforts; attend their upcoming fundraising soirée; or donate via the Under the Same Sky website.
As the name suggests, this grassroots organization — which advocates for support, research and education on suicide, not only for the public but for affected families as well — has an impact across the nation. Close to home, their Cook County North Suburban affiliate has been bringing families together in the name of hope and community since the 1990s.
Their website is populated with resources that cover a range of needs, from crisis hotline numbers to emergency room alternatives. While donations are necessary for the work they do — which go to support their initiatives and critical work in our communities — they also need the help of volunteers and advocates to bring the mission beyond NAMI’s reach.
Virtual support groups, donation opportunities and extensive education on the topic of suicide and its prevention are available on the NAMI website.
Located in Winnetka, this nonprofit mental health center works with clients on the private scale; offers workshops to the public; and does consultations for schools, organizations and staff development. The Center is comprised of 10 in-house therapists with varying specialities, from substance use to family sessions. They are devoted to providing care for everyone, regardless of financial status.
Last year alone they “underwrote more than $300,000 in client fees” and were able to do so thanks to generous donations. To support the vital work they do, visit the Counseling Center of the North Shore for more information.
The relationship between a person and their mental health is a journey that starts at a young age. In recognition of this, the Erika’s Lighthouse mission is to intercept an adolescent’s understanding of mental health before it strays too far in the wrong direction. Their four-pillar system — classroom education, teen empowerment, family engagement and school policy & staff development — is a proven set of tools educators can use to cultivate an environment that promotes inclusive mental health education and practices.
In the wake of COVID-19 and virtual learning, the organization states that teens are “struggling like never before — finding themselves lost in a world turned upside down by a health crisis, but facing a mental health emergency.” To further their impact in response, the organization is always accepting donations. Information for monetary, memorial or alternative donations can be found on the Erika’s Lighthouse website.
View this post on Instagram
The crux of Haven Youth and Family Services’ mission is prevention and care, which manifests through therapy programs and intervention via workshops. Individual, group, family and crisis counseling are all available through their organization, “No matter the struggle: big feelings, behaviors, communication, focus, life transitions, self-harm, substance use, traumatic experiences, we are here to help.”
With an extensive catalogue of services — from mental health counseling to psychosocial rehabilitation programs — the Association House of Chicago, located in Humboldt Park, offers trauma-informed, culturally-affirming care for “the whole person.” There are numerous volunteer opportunities to support their mental health efforts or one of their many other programs. Those looking to to support in other ways can donate money to their cause or materials to their wishlist — located on the Association House of Chicago website.
View this post on Instagram
Named for Elyssa Meyers, a Chicagoland teen who battled PTSD and depression in her adolescent years — Elyssa’s Mission seeks to provide hands-on support and education to students, staff and parents at private and public schools. Resources for those impacted by suicide are available online, however, their outreach goes beyond that.
Annually, the organization sponsors the Elyssa’s Mission Scholarship Award — which is given to a number of students who emulate the organization’s mission in their communities. Moreover, their in-school programs and community events offer endless opportunities to get involved and spread the word about early mental health intervention. Support their mission to create “a safer today for our youth” — donation materials can be found on the Elyssa’s Mission website.
Middle- and high-school aged students are particularly vulnerable to the effects of poor mental health, even more so when they do not have a proper outlet for their issues. In an effort to curb that, LEAD (Linking Efforts Against Drugs), a Lake Forest nonprofit, has created Text-A-Tip — a 24/7, text crisis hotline that offers anonymous support to local youth, or to anyone in need of crisis care. Specific to the Lake Forest area, users can text LAKECO to 1-844-823-5323, after which they will be connected with a mental health counselor within minutes. Information about their efforts can be found on the Lake County webpage.
Through engaging, activity-based programming, Youth Services aims to intervene, prevent, educate and support children and adolescents in the northern suburbs. Their unique care caters to youth clients who need support in a variety of ways, like sexual and gender identity support or crisis response. Public events like their annual Golf Outing are another way they engage the public and raise funds for their organization. Understanding that mental health services can be a financial burden for some families, Youth Services offers a variety of programs and vows never to turn a family away based on their ability to pay. Looking for a worthy cause to support either with your time or financially? Consider Youth Services — find more information on their website.
An invaluable resource to the nonprofit community, The Volunteer Center hosts a wealth of information on their website regarding upcoming and ongoing volunteer opportunities. Individuals looking to offer their time and commitment to an organization they feel strongly about can peruse the Center’s opportunity directory. Additionally, interested parties can donate to The Volunteer Center’s efforts, which can be found on the Center’s website.
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline number, 9-8-8 — a new, three-digit dialing code — or visit the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website for more resources.
More from Better:
- Local Schools Avoid Disruption From Teachers Shortage But Are Still in Need of Support, Specialized Staff
- 30 of the Best Things To Do in Chicago and the Suburbs This September
- The Night Ministry’s Lighting Up the Night Raises $370,000 to Help 4,000 Chicagoans Struggling with Homelessness and Poverty
Margaret Smith is a Chicago-based writer and editor with a passion for socio-political storytelling about their community. They are a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.