As Wisconsin Suicides Rise, New State Program Would Coordinate Prevention

Proposal Is 'Lynchpin' Of Measures Backed By Suicide Prevention Task Force

Wisconsin State Capitol Reflection
Ann Althouse (CC BY-NC)

As Wisconsin’s suicide rate continues to rise, lawmakers met Tuesday to discuss a proposed statewide prevention program.

According to the state Department of Health Services, more than 900 Wisconsin residents died by suicide in 2017, the most recent year with available data. That’s up from roughly 600 statewide suicide deaths in 2007.

Under the proposal, the state Department of Health Services would house a new program tasked with coordinating suicide prevention initiatives across all state departments, as well as administering a number of state grants for suicide prevention services.

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The plan includes funding for two program staff, including a director.

The measure is seen as the lynchpin of a package of suicide-related proposals unveiled this fall following several months of public hearings and meetings by a legislative task force.

“You can do a lot of things in silos … this (program) is the one that brings it all together,” said Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Speaking before a committee of lawmakers on Tuesday, a health department official compared the number of suicide deaths in the state to those lost annually to Wisconsin’s opioid epidemic. According to the department, there were about 800 statewide opioid deaths in 2018.

Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, who chaired the task force on suicide prevention, said the proposed program would help local communities’ initiatives be more successful.

“Individual health departments, police departments are doing things, but they’re kind of struggling how to coordinate, how to get the best practices,” Ballweg said. “We’ve got a lot of people out there who are working hard, but they keep reinventing the wheel.”

The program would also oversee public education campaigns related to suicide prevention and apply for federal and non-profit grants on behalf of the state.

A number of groups, including Mental Health America of Wisconsin and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, have registered their support for the plan.

The bill has yet to be voted on in an Assembly or Senate committee.