A time for reflection

Ayden Root, 11, and Barb Blank, both volunteers with the La Crosse Area Suicide Prevention Initiative, arrange pinwheels in the shape of a yellow suicide awareness ribbon Sept. 15 before the 10th annual Suicide Awareness Event in Riverside Park. The seventh annual Suicide Prevention Summit took place the next day at the La Crosse Center.

Mental-health advocates who had been nervous that La Crosse County was on a record suicide pace last year are relieved that their fears weren’t realized. But they remain unsettled that the tally of 24 people who took their own lives is second only to the 26 in 2014.

They also are doubling down on efforts to provide hope and light to those who are experiencing darkness and despondency that could lead to suicidal thoughts.

“We must keep the positive side that we’re making a difference,” said Judy Shoults, a member of the La Crosse Area Suicide Prevention Initiative who openly shares her own battle with depression in her quest to help others.

“We go on faith that we’re making a difference,” the Onalaska woman said in an interview Thursday.

An unsolvable mystery remains in determining the number of people who might have considered suicide but opted instead to seek help through the initiative, hospitals' behavioral heath programs and other resources.

“How many more might there have been without us?” Shoults said.

The fact that three people died to suicide in January had concerned officials, and the worry increased as the count reached 19 by early September, raising the specter of setting another devastating record.

“We were on a record pace, but thank God it didn’t keep going,” La Crosse County Medical Examiner Tim Candahl said Wednesday, with one day remaining in 2015.

The total included 15 males and nine women, Candahl said. The gender breakdown was similar to the previous — and record — year, when 18 men and eight women took their own lives.

The statistics obviously do not include suicide attempts that did not result in death, although conventional wisdom is that more women than men attempt suicide, but more men die because they choose more lethal methods.

For example, the method breakdown last year among men included 10 who died of gunshots, four in hangings and one overdose, compared with four female overdoses, and one each of hanging, drowning, poison, asphyxiation and gunshot.

Mental health advocates are concerned that the numbers have continued to rise, despite efforts to increase awareness and redouble endeavors to promote assistance for people who might be considering or are at risk of suicide.

The lowest number of suicides in the county in recent years was recorded in 2010, when nine people took their own lives. In 2009, 12 died, while 14 died in both 2011 and 2012.

Echoing the mantra of the Campaign to Change Direction, a national mental health initiative launched in La Crosse in March, Shoults exhorted people to take more interest in each other and not be afraid to talk about mental-health issues and seek help.

“If somebody says something, take them seriously,” she said. “If somebody says, ‘I’m not worth anything,’ don’t just say, ‘Of course you are’ and walk away. Instead, say, ‘Why would you say that?’ and help them try to figure it out.”

Doing so shows people that others are interested in their well-being, she said.

Although the precise causes of depression and suicide may seem elusive, Shoults suggested that social media may be part of the problem.

“With social media, we’ve gotten everybody disconnected, and we’ve got to be connected,” she said. “On any given day, we’ve got to talk to people — or even just smile at a stranger.”

While talking about mental-health issues is becoming more open, the topic remains anathema to some because of its continuing stigma, she said.

Shoults agreed with the suggestion that the knee-jerk reaction to attribute incidents such as mass shootings to mental illness drives people further into isolation.

“Let’s not go right away with blaming mental illness” when other factors could be at work, she said.

People also need to take responsibility for their own mental health, as well as that of others, she said.

“If your ankle hurts, you make an appointment to have it checked," Shoults said. “It’s the same with your mental health. Get it checked.”

If nothing else, at least call 2-1-1, the Great Rivers crisis line that provides 24-hour confidential crisis information and referrals, she said, adding that unburdening oneself to a stranger often offers a comfort not available from acquaintances.

Individuals should not be intimidated about seeking psychiatric help and, if they face delays in getting an appointment, talk to their primary physicians, she said.

“A psychiatrist scares people. Then tell your primary care physician, ‘I’m not feeling right. I’m not sleeping well. I’m not eating,’” so the doctors can advise them, she said.

“When I was at my lowest points, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Shoults said. “But my doctor saw it for me when I couldn’t.”

In an effort to understand suicidal motivations, Candahl last year became the first Wisconsin coroner certified to perform psychological autopsies during two days of training sponsored by the American Association of Suicidology.

Three families have indicated interest in participating in the process, said Candahl, who is awaiting final word from them on schedule sessions.

During psychological autopsies, family members and friends are invited to talk about those who have lost their lives to suicide and check what had been happening to them to plumb warning signs such as depression and any inclination to harm themselves, he said.

"It's to engage family members and to help mental health people identify causes," he said.

The problem is far from local, with federal and state statistics showing that suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death.

But solutions can start locally, Shoults said.

“I wish I had that magic wand,” she said, “but it’s not there. We’ve got to care about each other. We are social beings, and we have to connect.”

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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.

(12) comments


Machiavelli, Calmone, and easy - it is cold hearts like yours that push many to choose suicide. Suicide is NOT the "easy way out". It's to end the intolerable PAIN - regardless whether physical or emotional or both. Until you've "been there" - the point where the ONLY thing you can see as an end to the constant "pain" is death - keep your cold-hearted comments to yourselves.

As to Behavioral Health - quit pushing those mind altering "drugs" called antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and so forth, and push THERAPY FIRST. Sadness and situational depression do NOT need "drugs" to help - talking things through is what is needed.

I DO know whereof I speak!


tmkgls, you might be surprised that I actually agree with what you've just said. But what you are describing is only one middling part of the pain spectrum. I did not include the relatively-mild stuff in my analysis..I was more interested in the far extreme, hardcore clinical depression and physical pain or mental disturbances where self-euthanasia might legitimately put an end to hardcore suffering. It is unconscionable to push any person toward suicide or self-euthanasia, true, but the reverse is also sometimes true. For example, just speaking for myself, if I were severely burned in a car wreck, I'd want my doctors to do the right thing (for me) with a quick lights out.

Two other aspects I want to mention here: personal liberty and existential crisis. I know there is sometimes pain for the family left behind, but ultimately a person should be free to end life at a time of his or her choosing. Existential crisis is often a feeling that this planet is a cesspool, time to go.


Well, you seem to know all that is in every heart. That's lucky, wish I did. How do you know that the two I mentioned had not gotten to the desperate place you describe?

But are you really so cold yourself as to not spend a moment thinking of those innocent ones who are affected by that usually violent act? And I mean violence done to the victims, too.

Works in Mental Health

If the La Crosse area is serious about decreasing suicide deaths, the medical and mental health providers would be working together to improve access to mental health services. It can take as long as a year to get in to see a psychiatrist in the Coulee region even if you are connected in other ways (counselor, primary care physician, etc.). Both of the major healthcare systems in this community have serious problems with getting and keeping quality staff in the behavioral health departments. Something has to change with the way mental health providers are recruited, paid, and supported in order to turn this around. I think it would be a good idea for the medical establishment to treat psychiatrists & psychologists as they did when there was a severe nursing shortage. Offer to pay for the education and contract with the employee to be employed with the company for 5 years. Offer serious sign-on bonuses, and provide perks to being employed in behavioral health.


Much better on the title.

mtighe Staff

thanks for the earlier knuckle-rap prompting the change, CBuck. ;-)


I am troubled by the title. Is the slight dip disturbing? Were we hoping for a higher count to set new record?


MT: "They also are doubling down on efforts to provide hope and light to those who are experiencing darkness and despondency that could lead to suicidal thoughts."

...this is related to neurotransmitters and synapses in your brain; this is often cured with medications that don't permanently rewire your brain, contrary to popular myth, the medications just fix the synaptic problems and will soon have you feeling better. Try this first if you are having suicidal thoughts...other methods that often work are exercise and psychotherapy. The latter is surprisingly effective, despite what you might have heard in popular movies and TV shows.




"How To Deal With Depression - The Key To Breaking Out Of Depression"



Never opt to use a gun for suicide: these are not magic death rays where it's over in an instant. Instead, the result is typically an agonizing death, often a very slow one, especially if the type of gun used is a handgun. Shotguns and rifles, well, survival is less common but the death agony is not pleasant. Same deal for other types of suicides: hanging, drowning, cutting, pills, poison gas, cyanide, arsenic, ad nauseam...all are painful and unreliable, except for cyanide--painful but reliable.

There's a good chance you have a valid reason for choosing self-euthanasia and are desperate. Cancer, diseases related to aging, chronic pain, financial ruin, crime victim...all these are valid reasons for suicide. But your best bet is to seek out a physician who specializes in this area: do-it-yourself attempts are chock full of many surprising pitfalls. You want to use CO gas or sodium pentabarbital, if available. If you go DIY, you might come out a vegetable instead of dead.


Cold post but very true. Hopefully the person that is thinking of taking their life will stop and think, about their loved ones and what this will to the rest of their lives while they take the easy way out. Help is out there, even in the darkest of times. Please seek it out.


You are right, Calmone, cold post but true. Many of Mach's are -- true that is.

The truth is, suicides, in their anguish, often take unintended victims along with them. There was a man here a few years ago, whom I did not know but was apparently very beloved. He placed his wheelchair on the railroad tracks and waited for a train.

I spent my life on the railroad, and know "suicide by train" very well, and it happens all the time.

Those poor sad people who want to die do not seem to realize they are taking victims with them -- those men on the engine simply cannot stop that train in time, and will never forget the sight of that wheelchair disappearing under their train. They will recall it when awake, and awaken in cold sweats at night -- forever.

And they never did anything to deserve that.

I mentioned that in these threads, and was badly excoriated for it -- flamed at in capital letters, even, by those who were grieving for this beloved suicidal man.

I have forgiven them.


And how about something else gruesome, too? A good friend in another town told me about her brother's suicide -- he had a wife and several children, and he used his hunting rifle in his and his wife's bedroom.

My friend said the brothers and sisters all cleaned the place after, and still six months later they were still using toothpicks and Q-tips to clean dried blood and gore out of minute spaces, like where a mirror fit into a dresser frame, and others.

Any sympathy I ever had here goes to those innocent victims, not to this callous and selfish Son of a Botch.

At the least, go out to the woods! And God himself will clean you up. Eventually.

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