‘I feel hopeful’: Suicide survivor starts support group

UW Health: Increase in patients seeking behavioral health services

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. – As the stress of the pandemic exacerbates mental health issues, a Wisconsin Dells woman who knows the struggle well is starting a group to help.

“Because of everything I’ve been through in my life with child abuse and being on my own so young, I know what it’s like,” Angela Leskow said, adding that her experiences led to post-traumatic stress disorder.

From losing her brother, whom she considered her best friend, to having to quit work because of a disability in recent years, Leskow said the pandemic was a final blow in making her lose her grounding.

On July 26, she said she took handfuls of mixed medications. While in the hospital for three days, she said her late brother helped bring her back.

“He was there and said, ‘It’s not your time,’” Leskow said. “That’s when I woke up to my daughter’s face.”

Leskow said she’s grateful for the first responders and health workers who saved her life and that she’s in a completely different spot from a week and a half ago.

“Relieved. I feel good. I feel hopeful,” she said. “The sun is shining. It’s beautiful.”

Leskow said things are looking up as she helps others find their footing in a Facebook group she created this week, in part to honor 10-year-old Kodie Dutcher of Baraboo who died by suicide last month.

“If they need us in between any type of therapy or doctors’ appointments or need to be led in the right direction or they just need to talk,” she said. “The only way I know how to help me is by helping others.”

Increase in patients seeking mental health support

According to UW Health Director of Behavioral Services Dr. Beth Lonergan, the pandemic is worsening some patients’ mental health symptoms while driving more people to seek help in our area.

Since the pandemic began in late winter, Lonergan said they’ve seen about a 10% increase in patients served in psychiatry clinics and a more than 50% increase in patients receiving behavioral health services within primary care. She said it’s too early to say if suicides and suicide attempts are up, but “certainly, we’ve seen a huge increase in overdoses, whether intentional or accidental.”

According to SSM Health, while behavioral health unit volume has risen since the early days of the pandemic, it isn’t far off from this time last year. Still, psychologist Dr. Lisa Baker said that they are seeing new patients seeking mental health resources who haven’t in the past.

“People are at a much higher risk for developing a psychiatric issue, particularly depression, anxiety,” Lonergan said. “The isolation is a particular issue that really contributes to that.”

That’s why she stressed the importance of social connection however people are able to safely do so during the pandemic.

“It’s huge,” Lonergan said. “I can’t emphasize how vitally important that is. I don’t want to say it’s more important than treatment, but it’s certainly a huge factor in lifting people’s moods.”