Skip to Content

A new effort underway in Wisconsin could help curb suicide

La Crosse, Wis. (WXOW) – Suicide rates in the U.S. are the highest they’ve been since World War II.

According to a new report from the CDC, more men and women in nearly all states, and across racial and ethnic groups are dying by suicide. Experts are calling it a public health crisis.

More than 700 Wisconsinites die by suicide every year. That’s according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which says, adults between the ages of 45 and 54 have the highest rate of suicide and it is most prevalent in adult males.

Pam Benson lost her 26-year-old son to suicide. “You turn into your street and you see the police and the coroner and you see neighbors gawking, and you think, this is someone else’s life. This is not my life,” she said, recalling the day her son died in 2012.

Even in a fog of fear and disbelief, Pam said she found herself demanding answers. The coroner told her that her son Tanner hung himself. “He said to me, ‘Lady, it took him 10 seconds to black out.’ And all I could think was 10 seconds. That’s an eternity,” said Pam. “And for weeks I would go out in the garage and sit there and hold my breath for 10 seconds and try to think, what goes through the human mind for those ten seconds?”

But eventually, Pam was able to exhale. And inside of a therapist’s office, for the first time, she was able to cry. That’s when Pam said she realized there is healing in being able to tell your story.

Representative Steve Doyle has a story to tell, about his brother Tim, who lost his life to suicide at age 35 after struggling with depression.

“Afterwards, probably like every family, we asked ourselves ‘What did we miss? What could we have done? Were there warning signs that we ignored? What steps could we have taken?’ You always ask yourself that. We still ask ourselves that today,” said Doyle.

What he does know, is that suicide is a bi-partisan issue and that’s why he’s helping lead a statewide task force.
“My bother was a Kobe Bryant fan. He also loved Rush Limbaugh,” recalled Doyle, fondly.  “I agreed with him on half of that but not the other half of it. Everybody is different, but everybody suffers when there is a suicide.”

Legislators are hosting hearings around Wisconsin, looking at the current resources for suicide prevention and awareness. They are also looking to identify ways to target and help those highest at risk, such as farmers and youth. The task force will also explore ways to better use technology to reach and understand vulnerable populations. Treatment and support services options, as well as barriers, are also being examined.

In the Fall of 2019, new policy recommendations are expected to be released by the task force. You can stay up to date on the progress of the task force by visiting this website.

“I hope people show up and tell us about their experience (with suicide),” said Doyle. “I know it will be painful but it might be cathartic,” said Doyle as he also pointed out, it may help prevent it from happening to someone else.

Pam Benson believes it doesn’t matter if you have a microphone in your hand or if you can barely whisper the words, there simply needs to be more conversation about mental health. “We need to not be afraid to say it. ‘How are you doing?’ and to really want to hear the feedback,” she said.

Pam Benson found help and healing by joining a local suicide survivors group, she now leads that group, and welcomes anyone who needs to talk. The Survivors of Suicide Support Group meets on the 3rd Wednesday of each month, from 7:00-9:00 p.m., in the Rose Room at the Franciscan Spirituality Center at  920 Market Street in La Crosse.

Pam says if you are going through the loss of a loved one through suicide being able to share with others who are going through the same thing can help. You can contact her with questions about the support group at 608-633-3135.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or you can text “TALK” to 741-741.

The La Crosse Area Suicide Prevention Initiative has a list of places you can get help in the La Crosse Area. You can find that by clicking here.

Andrea Albers

Skip to content