Suicide up 25 percent according to CDC; local health experts emphasize awareness

Suicide rates are up 25 percent since 1999 according to a new study done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Local health experts said the cause has several factors.

Each year more than 700 Wisconsin residents end their own life, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Wisconsin’s suicide rate has actually stayed consistent over the last decade, according to local mental health experts.

Following the two high-profile suicides this week of chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade, local health experts are reminding communities about educating and starting responsible conversations to prevent future tragedies.

“This is an important issue,” said Dr. Clare Lewandowski, clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic Health System.

She said suicide is something that affects every community, even our own.

“La Crosse is not immune to suicide,” Lewandowski said.

She said it’s a problem that is on the rise.

“The numbers have been increasing differently for each state,” Lewandowski said.

She said the reasons are numerous.

“Economic hardship, increasing social isolation, difficulty with other problems that might stem from social isolation or economic hardship,” Lewandowski said.

Great River 211 suicide helpline supervisor Kim Knutson said this problem affects more people than many realize.

“People just really struggle with so many things,” Knutson said.

Lewandowski said education is the solution.

“Thoughts about suicide are fairly common and it’s what we do when we have those thoughts that might help keep us safe and connecting to the people who are important to us,” Lewandowski said.

She said high-profile suicide news coverage can contribute to the problem.

“If we normalize violence or coping in a particular way for something like suicide, that might become more problematic and it doesn’t lend us the opportunity for learning something or trying something different,” Lewandowski said.

She said people need to talk openly about these topics.

“Have that open conversation,” Lewandowski said.

Knutson said there is help.

“We are a 24-7 information and referral and crisis line,” Knutson said.

She said Great Rivers 211 averages 150 suicide calls per year.

“In 2017, we actually went down slightly with the actual suicide calls,” Knutson said.

She said she wants the public to know they can point people in the right direction.

“We are here to help, we are here not to judge,” Knutson said.

Lewandowski said asking someone a question can make a real difference.

‘”With everything you have on your plate right now, “are you thinking about killing yourself?'” Knutson said. “That open, honest conversation I think is the most important piece.”

Great Rivers 211 operates in 21 counties in Western Wisconsin for anyone who needs support.

The line is free and confidential, and they have a database of resources to make sure people who are struggling get help.

There are other resources out there including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.