YOUR HEALTH MATTERS: How to get free suicide prevention counseling

There were 1,200,000 suicide attempts in the country in 2020.
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 1:48 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Suicide is the twelfth leading cause of death in the U.S. according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. While there is a common misconception that talking about suicide will plant the idea, counselors say encouraging conversation around it can actually help prevent suicide.

There were 1,200,000 suicide attempts in the country in 2020. The year before, suicide claimed the lives of over 47,000 people nationwide. While it’s a sensitive subject, not talking about it could make that number even more jarring.

“A lot of people don’t realize how common suicidal thoughts actually are,” program supervisor and therapist for Women’s Recovery Journey with Family Services, Cassondra Frisque, shared. “What’s uncommon is the actual plan and attempting.”

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, trained counselors at Wisconsin Lifeline handle calls from people contemplating suicide. They work to deescalate those situations where someone may be close to acting on suicidal thoughts.

“But our goal is to prevent people from needing those county crisis services, prevent people from needing the hospital, EMS, welfare checks, those types of things.” Shelly Missall, program manager at Wisconsin Lifeline, highlighted. “We want to start earlier so we are talking with people who have anxiety. We’re talking to people who have substance use.”

Wisconsin Lifeline counselors answer the calls with Wisconsin area codes for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

To reach Wisconsin Lifeline call 1-800-273-8255.

Substance abuse of alcohol and methamphetamines can make the challenge of talking someone through depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts all the more difficult.

“People are not thinking as clearly,” Jenny Younk, interim director of crisis services at Family Services, emphasized. “Judgment is impaired. Impulse control is decreased. So, we are oftentimes having to access what we’re seeing when we’re talking to people when they are under the influence, their thought process is much different than when they’re sober.”

Wisconsin Lifeline saw a significant 19% jump in call volume from March into April this year. Yet, Family Services in Brown County noted a slight decrease. They’ve been seeing about 400 people per month at facilities like their Crisis Center while in previous years during peak times like April and May they’ve seen more than 500 per month.

Anyone in the community can go to the Crisis Center and get in person support to help them with local resources, or just sit and talk. Mental health experts say that’s probably one of the most important first steps for a lifelong journey of recovery.

“The reality is that many people live with suicidal thoughts across a life span,” director of suicide prevention at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Sara Kohlbeck, shared. “I think it’s helpful to think about it as a chronic health issue. Just like diabetes or other chronic health issues.”

If you’re worried about a family member, friend, or even yourself having suicidal thoughts, the first step is to ask questions like “how are you doing” or even “are you feeling suicidal?” Secondly, be comfortable to just sit, listen, or be willing to share. Finally, connect with professional help like calling Family Services Crisis Center at 920-436-8888 who can put you in touch with specific free programs for your needs.

Annie Krall is a former writer and producer for ABC NEWS New York City on the national medical and business units. Prior to that position, she was accepted to medical school her senior year at Northwestern University, after spending four years as a pre-medical student. However, Krall deferred her acceptance to pursue a Master in Health, Environment, and Science Journalism at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

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