Will Heinemann seemed happy in October of 2008, laughing with friends and family at his son's wedding. Six months later he fatally shot himself.
The owner of a Barrington masonry company and a 59-year-old married father of three, Heinemann seemed to have everything to live for. His suicide, like most, left survivors groping for answers.
"The overall economy had really started to diminish ... the overall housing decline just sort of basically put him out of work," recalled his son, Eric Heinemann, 35, of Crystal Lake, who spoke to his father the day before the suicide.
"He was down, but it was one of those things that nobody really thinks that someone could do to themselves," Heinemann said. "Especially this guy, he was pretty much ... our hero. No one would ever have thought he would take this type of action. It was a huge shock for all of us."
Experts say suicide rates are rising locally and across the country. The
Crisis centers are scrambling to offer help in preventing the number from rising further, but solutions remain elusive. Officials say there's no single problem to pinpoint.
"The economy, possibly," is a factor, said
Between 2000 and 2010 the number of suicides rose nationally from 29,350 to 38,364, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The means by which people committed suicide included hanging, drug overdoses, drowning, gunshot and standing in front of oncoming trains, according to experts.
Locke said that McHenry County suicides have more than doubled since 2002, when there were 16. By 2012, there were 38 — and with pending death investigations, that number could climb. In 2011, there were 29. Locke said the ages of people who committed suicide in 2012 ranged from 20 to 88.
The Lake County coroner's office reported 66 suicides in 2012, with some death investigations still pending. In 2011 there were 70. Those who committed suicide in 2012 ranged in age from 17 to 95.
In Cook County, suicides accounted for 389 deaths in 2011, and in 2012 preliminary numbers are at 427, with cases still pending, said Mary Marik, of the Cook County medical examiner's office.
In Kane County, officials reported 43 suicides for 2012, up from 40 in 2011. In 2010 there were 45 suicides.
In DuPage County, the coroner's office has classified 81 deaths in 2012 as suicides; four were 19 or younger. In 2011, suicides accounted for 88 deaths, and in 2010 the number was the highest it had been in the prior 17 years — 94, according to officials.
DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen called the growing number of suicides, especially among young people, heartbreaking.
"We probably cannot change the homicide rate by education or through work through the coroner's office, but we can attempt to change suicides in our county by addressing the issue through education and outreach," Jorgensen said. "I really do believe that, and I really believe that we should be dedicated to that in the future."
In Will County suicide has grown steadily from 39 in 2009, to 50 in 2010, 52 in 2011 and 61 confirmed suicide in 2012 with some cases still pending.
Will County Coroner Patrick O'Neil, like others, think suicides could be linked to a mix of
"There is just a mix of problems that folks might have," O'Neil said.
Despina McBride, interim manager for McHenry County Crisis Program, agreed. She said the solution is not easy.
"When we looked at employment, many had jobs," she said. "We don't know if they were underemployed, but ... most (were) employed that have committed suicides this year."
But the most common connections linking suicides is a history of depression and talk of committing suicide, she said.
"What we are trying to do is reach out to the community and educate on depression and its symptoms, de-stigmatizing it a little bit," McBride said. "We try to educate folks if somebody is talking about suicide, take it seriously and intervene."
Crisis counselors will meet with those in need at police stations, in emergency rooms, their homes — wherever they are called to when someone is showing signs of hurting themselves.
Counselors assess people who show
Mark Pollack, chairman of psychiatry at
"(Fewer) people are able to get the kind of treatment they need and that likely plays a factor as well," Pollack said.
Pollack said suicidal signs to watch for include signs of depression, being tearful, having low energy, poor concentration, loss of interest in family, work and activities.
Pollack said family members who suspect a relative is entertaining thoughts of suicide should remove access to weapons, and make sure they are not stocking up on prescription pills or other drugs.
He also said it is OK to ask if he or she is thinking about harming themselves because talking about suicidal thoughts can lead to healing.
"People are often afraid to raise the issue of suicide for fear they will put the idea in their head," he said. "The truth is asking about (suicide) doesn't cause people to suddenly think about it or be motivated to do it. People are often relieved to be able to talk about what they've been thinking and feeling. Some feel guilty or ashamed, frightened and acknowledging it may provide some relief."
After his father's suicide, Eric Heinemann sought therapy to deal with his own feelings of guilt and sadness. He came to understand that his dad's suicide was not his or anyone else's fault.
"It took some time to get straight," he said. "It leaves you with a lot of questions. I went to a psychologist pretty regularly after it happened, to reach places I needed to talk about that my family couldn't reach."
He tells others in his position to realize that "It's basically their decision. You can't continue to beat yourself up. It's almost a form of torture to continually replay what you could have done, and ask questions (of) why, what ifs."
Being part of support groups with other survivors of suicide also helps to cope.
"It's very helpful to be around people that have suffered through one of those tragedies," he said. "You can explain when people get a disease and pass away, but to have someone there one day and gone the next. ...
"You could look back and say I could have done things differently, but again no one ever thinks that could happen," he said. "I knew my dad over 30 years and this is the last thing I would have ever thought about. Don't assume that someone couldn't be capable of taking that step."
But the way Will Heinemann ended his life does not take away from who he was during his life.
"He was a great man," his son said, "too good of a man to lose in that way."