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Work to be done to address increased suicides in state

To address the growing problem of suicide and suicide behavior in Wisconsin, Prevent Suicide Wisconsin, a public-private partnership that includes the Department of Health Services (DHS), has released a call to action to guide and support suicide prevention in Wisconsin, over the next five years.

This guidance is included in a report – Suicide in Wisconsin: Impact and Response – which presents the most up-to-date picture of suicidal behavior in Wisconsin, based on surveys, death records and hospital data. It also outlines four strategies and 50 opportunities for action that, when taken as a whole, provide a path toward reducing the incalculable loss related to suicide attempts and deaths.

“This report provides a blueprint to bring together state resources, both public and private, in an organized effort to provide services and supports that save lives,” said DHS secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “This not only includes increasing access to services to help those who are contemplating suicide, but also eliminating stigma, so that people feel comfortable reaching out for the help they need.”

Wisconsin’s suicide rate rose 40 percent between 2000 and 2017. From 2013-17, suicide rates were highest among individuals ages 45-54. In that same time period, suicide rates were higher in rural counties than urban/ suburban counties.

Men are more likely to die by suicide than women, while women are more likely to be hospitalized with self-harm injuries than men. In 2019, 850 Wisconsin residents died by suicide.

The call to action focuses on four strategies that include interventions that have the best chance of achieving success, which includes the following:

• Increase and enhance protective factors, including efforts that build connections to community, co-workers, faith leaders, family, friends and other supports for at-risk populations, as well as increasing safety around potentially lethal substances and weapons.

• Increase access to care and supportive services for at-risk populations, including expanded use of telehealth and non-clinical support services.

• Implement best practices for suicide prevention in healthcare systems, including evidence- based tools for screening, assessment and treatment.

• Improve surveillance of suicide and evaluation of prevention programs, including efforts to standardize the investigating and reporting of suicide deaths.

The release of this report coincides with Suicide Prevention Month, which is observed every year in September. While there is no single cause of suicide, there are risk factors and warning signs which may increase the likelihood of an attempt.

There are five actions for helping someone in emotional pain.

Ask the question – “Are you thinking about suicide?” This communicates that the questioner is open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way.

Be there – This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone when possible or any other way that shows support for the person at risk. Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling.

Keep them safe – Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places, is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means, can make a difference.

Help them connect – Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with ongoing supports, can help them establish a safety net for those moments when they find themselves in a crisis. These supports could be a family member, friend, spiritual adviser or mental health professional.

Follow-up – After initial contact with a person experiencing thoughts of suicide and after connecting them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing.

“A comprehensive approach to suicide prevention must go beyond a focus on mental health concerns and include other problems that are known to contribute to suicide, such as relationships, substance use, physical health and job, money, legal and housing stress,” said Leah Rolando, suicide prevention coordinator for Mental Health America of Wisconsin, the organization that administers Prevent Suicide Wisconsin. “With these issues impacting many people right now, it is critical we foster an environment where all people, no matter their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, feel safe in their communities and free to ask for help.”

People in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text HOPELINE to 741741, for support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.