I’d like to give you a feel for the burden of suicide in Wisconsin: A joint report released in 2014 (the most current data I have) says that, on average, 724 valued and treasured individuals in Wisconsin take their own life each year.

What do we know about these individuals as a group?

Four out of five persons who died by suicide were male.

For every person who died by suicide there were eleven hospitalizations or emergency visits for self-inflicted injury.  And approximately three out of five patients hospitalized for self-inflicted injury were female.

Taken together, one estimates 8,000 people attempt suicide every year in Wisconsin.  724 die.

Firearms were the most frequent means of suicide.  And Means Matter:  Men use firearms more often than women, and attempts with guns are more likely to result in death than those in which other means are utilized.

Death from a suicide attempt was highest among individuals aged 45-54.

Veterans accounted for one out of five suicides in Wisconsin.

Teens and young adults are more likely to be seen or hospitalized for self-inflicted injuries than any other age group.

Among suicides with known circumstances, fifty percent had a current mental health problem and approximately forty-five percent were currently receiving mental health treatment. Where toxicology testing was performed, 37% tested positive for alcohol and 20% tested positive for opiates.  Of the known life stressors, intimate partner problems, physical health and job problems were most often reported. Significantly, 35% disclosed their intent to die by suicide to at least one person.

724 deaths by suicide in Wisconsin.  Each year.

And yet, as the Harvard School of Public Health reports, 90% who survive their attempted suicide do not go on to die by suicide later.  This is a terribly important fact.  Help is possible.  Those who attempt suicide, much more often than not, do not go on to die by suicide later.

How can we offer help to someone contemplating suicide?

The good news: Everyone can play a role in protecting their friends, family members and colleagues from suicide. However, as a national poll found, 50% of American respondents found obstacles and barriers that stopped them from trying to help someone at risk for suicide. Two barriers were commonly raised: Many feared that something they would say or do would make things worse rather than better. And many, understandably, simply did not know how to find help for a person feeling suicidal.

  • Most suicidal individuals want to live; they are just unable to see alternatives to their deep struggles and setbacks.
  • Most individuals give definite warnings of the suicidal intentions.
  • Talking about suicide does not cause someone to be suicidal.
  • Surviving family members not only suffer the trauma of losing a loves one to suicide, they may themselves be at higher risk for suicide and emotional problems.

Let’s look at what we as individuals can do to help.

  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped-like there’s no way out
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
  • Be available. Show the person interest and support.
  • Ask if he/she is thinking about suicide.
  • It’s ok to be direct: Talk openly and freely about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow for the expression of feelings, and accept them.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or if one’s feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Don’t dare him/her to do it.
  • Don’t ask ‘why’. This encourages defensiveness.
  • Offer empathy, not sympathy.
  • Don’t act shocked. This creates distance.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available, do not offer glib reassurance; it only proves you don’t understand.
  • Take action: Remove means!
  • Get help from individuals or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (phone:   text:) is a good place to start.

I was very fortunate when I was suicidal long ago. My husband enacted a good many of these helpful responses to me. He and we talked openly and freely about suicide. I did express some of my feelings about being suicidal and he accepted those feelings. Also important, I was offered empathy and most of all, I was offered hope. Hope offered when I had no hope. What a gift!