Robin Williams in 2013

Robin Williams in 2013.

The annual Suicide Prevention Summit in La Crosse takes on added urgency with the near-record number of people losing their lives to it in La Crosse County this year, according to Judy Shoults.

“No one is immune, as with depression,” said the Onalaska woman who is a member of the La Crosse Area Suicide Prevention Initiative and has chronicled her own battle with depression.

The initiative’s Sept. 10 summit at the La Crosse Center aims to drive that point home, as well as detail means to help prevent suicide. An awareness event from 6 to 7:30 p.m. the day before at Riverside Park will memorialize those who have lost their lives.

Seventeen have succumbed in La Crosse County so far this year, just one short of the record of 18 all last year.

“If we continue the trend, we’ll go over the 18,” Shoults said.

The death of 63-year-old comedian/actor Robin Williams death at his own hand Monday has focused a spotlight on the problem, she said.

“He was one of my favorites,” she said. “I was just reading about men taking their own lives, and many times it is related to depression, or addiction or medical problems — so there was a triple threat there for him.”

Williams, who overcame severe addictions for two decades before relapsing in 2006, was depressed over his career and had early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, according to family members.

“He probably didn’t want to become what he thought — wrongly — would be a burden for his family,” Shoults said. “What a tortured soul.”

Instead of yielding to the torment, “people need to let go of the idea that depression is a stigma and reach for help,” she said.

It is hard to explain the increase in suicides because “it’s always hard to know why because there are so many different forms of depression,” she said. “We know about veterans, but whether it’s an increase, we don’t know” because it wasn’t always recognized in the past.

“Many times, the person who commits suicide has not reached out for help, whether it is with addiction, depression, PTSD or sexual assault. Our mission is to get people talking and aware so they seek help,” she said.

“The reason I know is because of my own battle with depression. I’ve been in that dark place myself where you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“At that moment, people give up and don’t reach for the phone,” she said. “Looking back, I realize I let somebody else see the light. It was my doctor. He never gave up on me and said, ‘If this doesn’t work, I’ve got something else to try.’ He was seeing that light for me.”

Among those shedding light on the issue during the summit will be Dr. Timothy Lineberry, chief medical officer for Aurora Health Care in Green Bay.

“Suicide is a complex, multi-factorial problem,” said Lineberry, who until recently was medical director of the Mayo Clinic Psychiatric Hospital in Rochester, Minn., and an associate psychiatry professor at Mayo's College of Medicine.

A researcher of the topic since he was in the U.S. Air Force from 1991 to 2003, Lineberry said in an interview, “What things can we do that make a difference? One of the issues clinically is delivering evidence-based treatments.

“There are things we know about people who are depressed and have access to firearms,” he said.

Limiting patients’ access to even drugs such as Tylenol and adapting rooms in mental health facilities to remove the potential for suicides also are important, he said.

“We also have to get people in the moment to (use) call centers and promote awareness,” Lineberry said.

“From a larger standpoint,” he said, “it has incredible meaning to all of us. Everybody is put at risk.”

Shoults said she wasn’t even aware of the 211 crisis line when she considered suicide herself in the midst of deepening depression about 15 years ago.

“I had thoughts of it, but I never attempted,” she said. “I thought I’d take a lot of my pills, but then I thought I’d just get sick.

“There is nothing rational when you’re in that dark place. I was afraid I’d just get sick and vomit — and for what?” she said with a soft laugh, saying, “I still have to put humor into this because that’s who I am.”

During a meltdown in January 2002, she entered the behavioral health unit in what is now Gundersen Health System.

Hospitalized there three times for a total of 16 days between January and March, she said, “I had excellent medical support, excellent family support, and I was never embarrassed about my disease. I just never got the memo that I should be embarrassed.”

Shoults stresses the value of calling the 211 emergency help line, describing it is amazing. It’s anonymous. Sometimes, you just need to talk.

“One day I was in a dark place and a friend called and said, ‘I’m thinking of you,’” she recalled, noting that it helped pull her out of her funk.

One of the main requirements to fight suicide, and a goal of the summit, “is to get rid of the stigma,” Shoults said. “My mother used to be a nurse, and cancer had such a stigma that people used to whisper the word, like, ‘She has cancer.’”

Acknowledging depression and adopting a positive approach are keys to overcoming it, she said.

“I choose to use the term that I ‘live with depression,’ not ‘suffer from depression.’ In reality, I do have days I suffer — according to the definition in the dictionary — but it is mentally healthier to use the word ‘live.’”

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Reporter

Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(13) comments

Danny Watkins

Or stop prescribing suicide pills (Zoloflot,Lexapro,Paxil,ProZac,Wellbutrin... Elavil,Imipramine,Desipramine,Nortriotil... Lithium, Cymbalta)

Read the warning labels, they specifically admit they cause suicide.

easy

Buggs, you did not need to throw that ridiculous assertion into the mix -- all you did was create negative images in people's minds about a very great human being.

The first sentence of the police chief's remarks said he was clothed. That takes care of your truly random thought.

So apologize to the memory of someone you have besmirched.

Buggs Raplin

Just maybe Williams didn't kill himself. Perhaps he died of auto-erotic asphyxiation. I say this because he had a wife and loving children, but left no suicide note explaining to them why he took his life. Auto-erotic asphyxiation was also the subject of one of the movies Williams starred in. It is a dangerous sexual practice to try to achieve a more powerful sexual experience. The actor David Carradine died from it. Perhaps suicide is just a cover story to try to protect his image. If so, then an opportunity is being wasted to alert people to this dangerous practice, which might save lives. Yes, it's more comforting to his memory to think he just got overwhelmed by depression and took his life...so I imagine this comment may provoke some ire. Well, the truth is usually not comforting, but it's something we should place the highest value upon.

Machiavelli

Leave it to Buggs to latch on immediately to something weird like this. Never let the facts intrude, that's Buggs' motto!

Fact: Williams had newly-made cuts on his wrist that indicated a failed attempt at suicide by insanguination. Fact: Williams had been diagnosed with depression and Parkinson's. Fact: Williams had no 'need' for sexual deviancy.. his wife is, pardon the pun, drop-dead gorgeous and would probably have dumped Williams if such bizarre tendencies had been discovered.. it's likely she would have discovered it too, given that she lived in the same house as her husband.

But, as every conspiracy buff says, never let the facts intrude!

Buggs Raplin

Well, Mac, the cuts are not necessarily indicative of a suicide attempt. In your critique, you avoided my most important point-no suicide note. Was Williams so self-centered, so uncaring that he would not leave a message to his loved ones explaining why he killed himself. I think not from what I know of the man. He would have left a note. Let me suggest to you also that the intensity of the sexual experience through auto-erotic asphyxiation is greater, much greater than normal sexual relations. Williams was familiar with it, knew the pleasure to be obtained, and the danger, and may have even used the procedure in the past successfully. Mac, you're just like the mainstream media-you bark conspiracy as if that puts the argument to rest; you criticize me for ignoring the facts, when you know full well all conspiracies I espouse are based on facts. You are the unintellectual intellectual.

tower

The CIA did it because they were PO'd about "Good Morning Vietnam" and Robin's mocking of the good war effort. You and Mach are both uncaring clods who don't know krap about the subject. Depression is a real and VERY common illness that affects millions. I know numerous people, both in and out of the family, who suffer varying degrees of Depression. None of them have committed suicide and all function very very well in business and life. They do it by meds and therapy. None of them that I know well have been abused by employers or the state. That is pure hogwash. Coming up with total fantasy ideas shows your true character Buggs. You disappoint me.

thetruthisntoutthere

What a hypocritical piece of writing. The La Crosse Tribune undoubtedly contributes to the suicide rate in La Crosse, through public humiliation and bullying of the poor and downtrodden. It's a miracle the likes of Indra Book are still around after being stalked by the courts writer, and petty white trash articles meant to amuse readers have undoubtedly triggered self-harm episodes and possible suicide attempts. I wonder how many suicides in La Crosse in the past 10 years have a connection to the Tribune humiliation machine. Remember a year or two ago they posted a Sunday paper with mug shots covering the whole front page? Undoubtedly, the La Crosse Tribune contributes to the suicide rate in La Crosse.

Machiavelli

Extremely interesting comment. Lots to think about. The composer John Dowland uttered similar sentiments half a millennium ago:

"Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their last fortunes deplore.
Light doth but shame disclose.

Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days, my weary days
Of all joys have deprived.

From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my deserts, for my deserts
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.

Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world's despite."


"Flow my tears" by John Dowland | Valeria Mignaco, soprano | Alfonso Marin, lute

youtube.com/watch?v=jkRrzAo9Wl4

laxcitizen

Mach: wow- you are deranged with what you think is sound advice. Keep it a secret? Getting help from someone that is knowledgeable with this type of disease may save a life. Getting the word out to those that do live with depression, that help is 'around the corner' w/o the idea of taking away any legal rights is successful. You are extreme with the 'maybes' with someone reaching out themselves. Will someone take your rights away IF you have cancer? MS? it is treatable, and you may live a near normal life. "It is the worse to want to die, and not be able to' ...generally that thought is when depression is at its lowest, so considering the thought of dying may not be under the best 'thinking' circumstances.

Machiavelli

My view is that if the individual does not have full control over whether to continue his own life, liberty as we in this country claim to cherish it has no meaning. In modern times, we've been too quick to surrender our individual autonomy to a certain 'clinical mindset,' which treats us all like children and not as people with dignity. In Roman times, what the clinicians label as 'depression' was highly esteemed as 'the Saturnine disposition' and had near-equal footing with philosophers and scholars. These people were seen as wise, because they tended to see the world as it really is.. an awful place.

As for the legal side, do check out for yourself everything that I've said. Stigma toward mental illness and disease is deeply embedded inside our legal system and business cultural norms. That's just how it actually is. Really, do check it out.

"The world is a bad place, a bad place
A terrible place to live, oh, but I don't wanna die"

youtube.com/watch?v=eHffJj_WdHY

Machiavelli

Re: "In the county, 13 victims this year have been men, seven of whom died of gunshot wounds to the head or chest, while two women shot themselves. Other methods were hanging or other means of suffocation, poisoning and overdoses."

Never, never, never do any of the above. You'll make a botch of it and suffer terribly. Even shotgun blasts to the head are not instantaneous: the person often ends up dying in agony--the correct angle is not what you think. Gun shots to the body are not the magic instant death rays you see on TV: most of the time, the person survives, the result is horrible. Same for the other methods, including pills. Self-euthanasia should only be carried out under the supervision of a physician under legally-permissible circumstances. Avoid the pundits of death, like Derek Humphry's Final Exit: there are flaws to these methods that might result in an agonizing death for you. (The 'exit bag' thing is fraught with peril, as is carbon monoxide and Nembutal.)

Machiavelli

Re: "Erase depression stigma to curb suicides"

Bad idea: a person's life is his own, a person's choice is his own. It's for the individual to decide whether to continue life or not.. sometimes preventing a self-euthanasia is the wrong choice. If I had Parkinson's, I'd feel I was better off deceased than have half of my brain eaten away from the insides. If we weren't so quick to "curb suicides," Robin Williams would have suffered far less, because there would have been an alternative similar to what the Swiss have (Dignitas). Unfortunately, Christian dogma on this subject has muddled up our laws. Result: lots of painful deaths in the U.S.

If you have depression, be aware that seeking help has nasty legal consequences too: you might have trouble getting insurance, a concealed-carry permit, a firearm, a job, a bank loan... it's a scarlet letter you'll never be able to erase.

“Death is not the greatest of evils; it is worse to want to die, and not be able to." - Sophocles

Machiavelli

I should add too that, as with Alzheimer's and dementia, seeking help for any mental illness could trigger the state and/or your relatives to take away your legal rights: they may take legal guardianship over you. If you need help, you may find it best to find it outside the mainstream medical system. Keep it a secret if you possibly can.

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