Suicide has the potential to impact anyone. It does not discriminate by race, age, socioeconomic class, or religion. In Wisconsin, the suicide rate is four times the homicide rate with over 700 Wisconsinites dying by suicide each year. Additionally, approximately 5,500 Wisconsin residents are hospitalized due to self-inflicted injury each year.
While those number are daunting, each of us can make a difference that could save a life. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and it is particularly important for us to elevate this issue in Wisconsin. Suicide rates in our state have risen by nearly 26% since 1999 according to the Centers for Disease Control - a rate two points higher than the national average.
As a medical examiner, I work closely with law enforcement to investigate deaths and speak with families who have been impacted by the death of their loved one. I know that each suicide creates a ripple effect that touches family, friends, and our entire community. These deaths are preventable, and we can do more to reach people who are struggling.
We know what works; improving community preventive services, enhancing mental health treatment, and strengthening research and evaluation of our existing programs. People with previously identified mental illnesses make up about half of all suicides. We need more resources for people experiencing mental health crises in Northwestern Wisconsin, which is why I’m working across the aisle in Madison to create a system of prevention, not just hospitalization which may come too late. Over half of the people who complete suicide showed no diagnosable mental illness prior. We need a holistic approach that can reach every person in need, regardless of diagnosis.
Between 2009 and 2013, the suicide rates of Burnett, Polk, St. Croix, and Pierce counties were all higher than our statewide average. After watching the rate in St. Croix County grow from zero suicides in 2007 to 18 in 2011, I took action and created the St. Croix County Suicide Prevention Task Force. Our group is dedicated to preventing suicide through a training known as Question, Persuade, Refer, or QPR. QPR training teaches people to recognize suicide risk factors in the people around them, as well as how to talk to someone who might be contemplating suicide. These trainings can be done in schools, local businesses, or anywhere in our community. QPR- like CPR- can save the life of someone in trouble.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also focused on prevention, and they are spreading the word through a #Bethe1To campaign. Be the one to ask if a friend or loved one if they are thinking about harming themselves. Be the one to separate them from anything they may use to hurt themselves. Be the one to listen without judgment. Be the one who connects them to help from family, religious leaders, therapists, or a hotline. Be the one to check in on people in crisis and make sure they know you care about them. Be the one to prevent self-harm and save a life.
If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.
State Senator Patty Schachtner represents Wisconsin’s tenth senate district. The district covers parts of Burnett, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, and St. Croix counties.