Officials: Suicide can be prevented through community, caring to ask questions

Brown County officials urging community to help those with suicidal thoughts, before it is too late.

GREEN BAY – A well-known celebrity's death is bringing new attention to suicide here in northeast Wisconsin.

Actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead earlier this week. Authorities say he hanged himself.

His wife, Susan Schneider, said Thursday her husband was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, and was sober at the time of his apparent suicide.

Williams had also been struggling with depression and anxiety.

"Suicide is a preventable public health problem," said Tana Koss, the program director at Green Bay’s Family Services Crisis Center.

Tucked away in the basement of its downtown building at 300 Crooks St is a darkened room.

Counselors are on phones, for 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, offering lifelines of support for those in their moments of crisis.

"It can be the most difficult thing that they ever do, or ever will do, but we need people who are suffering to ask for help," said Koss.

Unfortunately, numbers show that there are many in the county who feel a crisis in their life is too large to handle, and end their life. But it can be handled.

This is why county officials are using this moment of national discussion about suicide, to talk about it on a local level.

After seeing death by suicide decline from 40 in 2007 to 30 in 2009, it has trended over the last four years, according to numbers from the Brown County Medical Examiner. Last year, 35 deaths were attributed to suicide, which is up from 25 in 2010. This year, the county has already seen 20 people take their own lives.

The county's medical examiner, Al Klimek, says deaths by suicide regularly outnumber county OWI and drug-related deaths, combined.

It's only in hindsight Klimek says families of lost loved ones recognize the signs: substance abuse, financial and marital or relationship problems, as well as mental health.

"That's just a storm that is eventually going to show itself," Klimek said.

Which is why he says QPR training – or Question, Persuade, Refer – is so important for the community.

"Instead of closing your eyes, we're opening your eyes,” said Klimek. “We want you to identify the potential, and we don't want people to just pooh-pooh it off, sweep it under the rug, and just forget about it, it will go away. Because, chances are, it will not go away."

Crisis counselors say they can’t do the work alone – that it takes everyone in the community to step up. From those suffering, asking for help, to friends and family.
And that recovery and reason for hope is just a phone call away.

If you or someone you know needs help, a handful of area communities have 24 hour crisis hotline numbers. Among them, Green Bay at (920) 436-8888, which anyone can call.