LA CROSSE COUNTY, Wis. (WKBT) - Over the past five years La Crosse County has averaged about 15 suicides per year, but only six months into 2014 the number of people killed by suicide is already at 14.
Talking about mental health issues, and more specifically suicide, is not a conversation many people have. Experts say it is something that needs to be talked about more, however, because mental health is just as serious as cancer.
In his eight years working in the county, La Crosse County Medical Examiner Tim Candahl has never seen the suicide rate as high as it is now.
"The numbers in La Crosse County are kind of alarming," Candahl said.
He said of the 14 suicides this year six are veterans.
"Everybody asks me, 'What ages are we looking at?' and right now there is no certain age. It's anywhere from in the 20s to elderly people," Candahl said.
Hearing about the high rate of suicide hits close to home for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
"The difficult things are when I see a dad and a son walking through the hardware store or I see somebody who, Joe died when he was 19, so when I see somebody with that floppy blond hair that Joe had when his hair would get longer walking down the streets, that's hard," Dave Clements said.
Clements lost his son to suicide March 10, 2008.
"Certainly you never forget him. You remember all the wonderful things, but you don't get to see him graduate from college, don't get to celebrate him getting his first real job, don't get to celebrate him getting married or having kids," Clements said.
As a way to remember their son and raise awareness for a topic that doesn't get the attention it needs, Clements and his family started the Joe Was Just Joe Foundation.
"We've been raising money and supporting suicide prevention causes for six plus years," Clements said.
Through the foundation, Clements speaks to students throughout our area, teaching them the warning signs and letting them know everyone can make a difference.
"Take them by the hand don't say, 'You need to get help,' take them and find them help, make sure they get help, make sure they get an appointment, make sure they talk to a mental health professional," Clements said.
"We need to work on reducing the mental health stigma that we have in our population. Mental health illness (is) just the same as if we were to have cancer, just the same as if we were to have heart disease. It is diagnosable it is a treatable illness that we can work with," wellness education specialist at Gundersen Health System Christie Harris said.
It may be hard to eliminate suicide all together, but by taking the first step, asking if someone needs help, you could be saving a life.
"You just don't know where you can have a impact. I've taken the approach that one person can change things in the world and that each of us can have an impact if we just try a little harder," Clements said.
Candahl said after a suicide the toughest part for him is being with that person's family. He said families of course have questions, but it's difficult for him to answer them.
Within the next year or so Candahl hopes to begin implementing a psychological autopsy, which may help answer those questions. This type of autopsy interviews the family about the person who has committed suicide, which could help in identify suicide warning signs earlier.
If you or anyone you know is in need of help you can call the La Crosse Area Suicide Prevention Initiative at 608-784-HELP or you can call 211.
The La Crosse Suicide Prevention website has a number of resources, as well as more information about suicide.
If you would like to learn more about the Joe Was Just Joe Foundation you can visit their website.
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