In 2004, Tom and Ginny Neuckranz, of Winnetka, Illinois, lost their 14-year-old daughter, Erika, to adolescent depression — a mental disorder that not many people were educated about at the time.

“Within several weeks, with many friends helping, including friends of Erika, we decided to start an education program and put it in the schools if we could, and we have done that, to teach children about depression and de-stigmatize it,” says Tom Neuckranz.

Erika’s Lighthouse, a Beacon of Hope for Adolescent Depression, was founded in 2004 and empowers young people with the knowledge and skills to understand and cope with this disorder. The organization develops and provides free teen depression awareness programs and resources to middle school and high school communities around the country. Its programs address the challenges surrounding teen depression using the most impactful, innovative, and accessible methods available today. This includes interactive web-based resources, multimedia classroom teaching tools, and teen-to-teen interventions, which makes Erika’s Lighthouse a trailblazer for mental health education.

Promoting early identification and intervention by raising awareness of depression is the best hope of preventing suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is a leading cause of death for young people ages 10-34. What’s more, most children or adolescents suffering from depression will go undiagnosed and untreated. Depression is common. It is treatable. It’s just a matter of understanding what it is and how to get help.

From a modest start 15 years ago, Erika’s Lighthouse has gone from providing free educational programs on depression and suicide awareness in our local community to now touching the lives of students, parents, and school professionals in 300 schools spread across 36 states. Their classroom-based programs, The Erika’s Lighthouse Program: Depression Awareness for Middle School Students and The Erika’s Lighthouse Program: Depression and Suicide Awareness for High School Students, feature teens sharing their own stories of dealing with depression and cover the basic information about the disorder — encouraging young people to take ownership of their mental health. The programs are evidence-informed and data-driven, National Health Education Standards (NHES) compliant, and meet many state education suicide prevention standards.

The programs, along with countless other resources such as The Parent Handbook for Childhood and Teen Depression and the Teen Depression Toolbox, can be found on, free of charge.

Ginny Neuckranz, co-founder and member of the board, says “we do what we do because no one else was giving kids the 411 on this common illness. Tom and I are grateful to work with a fabulous staff and team of volunteers that share a common vision.”

Erika’s Lighthouse will be holding a celebratory event to celebrate its 15th Anniversary on Saturday, May 18 at 7 p.m. It will be held at the Valley Lo Club, 2200 Tanglewood Drive, in Glenview. Tickets are $200 and are available at The gala will feature dinner, dancing, a raffle, and a live auction, which will feature a limited number of high-end exclusive and experiential packages.

If you or someone you know is struggling from depression, contact a doctor or mental health professional to get help.

Originally featured in Better