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Raising awareness on teen suicide

An actor talks about schizophrenia during a scene from “Pieces: In My Own Voice” during a mental health awareness event at Shorewood High School on Thursday.

An actor talks about schizophrenia during a scene from “Pieces: In My Own Voice” during a mental health awareness event at Shorewood High School on Thursday.

May 28, 2014

Shorewood — Suicide is not an easy subject to talk about.

But in the wake of a several teen suicides last summer, the North Shore community felt compelled to talk about it.

Concerned community members in Shorewood and Whitefish Bay banded together to talk about the issue very publicly with guest speakers, resource fairs and book clubs. Together they formed a "resiliency coalition" to raise awareness and prevent more young people from taking their own lives.

The coalition, titled RedGen, was formed in response to several suicides last summer, including 13-year-old Abby Goldberg in Shorewood and Nicolet High School student Tyler Webb. There were also several others, including recent high school graduates and parents.

Goldberg's father, Abe Goldberg, said many people in the community came to show their support and share their experiences with depression and suicide. He soon realized the scope of lives touched by mental health issues and realized there are many unanswered questions that exist.

"We don't want to create a problem that doesn't exist, but at the same time, we do think there's a demand and a curiosity for answers to questions about the subject matters of mental health, suicide and depression," Goldberg said.

RedGen has been trying to answer those questions through public events, like the Mental Health Awareness Fair, which brought a variety of mental health organizations to the Shorewood High School auditorium on May 22. More than 150 people attended the event, which also included a performance of the play "Pieces - In My Own Voice," which addressed suicide, depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues.

The event was the latest in an ongoing awareness effort by RedGen, which was sparked to action by Margaret Rhody, a young adult minister at Holy Family Parish in Whitefish Bay and St. Robert's Parish in Shorewood. The movement has since brought together community members from various schools and faith communities.

The group has found a report from the National Institutes of Health indicating that teens in suburban areas experience higher levels of anxiety and depression than their peers in urban areas.

RedGen has brought several expert guest speakers to the North Shore. They have also organized an overnight retreat for 17 high school freshmen and sophomores to talk about stress, coping and suicide prevention at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. These kids were selected because they were already involved in youth groups and engaged with their peers.

Nancy Salmon, a Whitefish Bay mother who lost her daughter Rachael to suicide in 2011, has helped the RedGen effort and runs a book club for North Shore parents.

"A lot of it is bringing people together so they know they are not alone in the struggles that their kids have," she said.

In August, RedGen is hosting Dr. Barbara Hale-Richlen, an adolescent psychiatrist. They will host a screening of "Race to Nowhere" in September and a presentation in October from Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician and professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. RedGen is also creating a packet of information for parents about managing transitions from middle school to high school and life after high school.

The heightened awareness has also led Whitefish Bay students to start their own RedGen student group to talk about mental health issues.

"Young people aren't going to talk to old people," Goldberg said. "Kids aren't going to tell their parents they are depressed, so we have to provide a resource for kids to learn more about these types of things and not be so stigmatized by it. Events like this offer that solution."

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