La Crosse County on pace to set record for suicide deaths this year

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – La Crosse County is on pace to set a new record, and not one to cheer about.

The medical examiner’s office says 23 people have died by suicide so far this year, matching the county’s record set in 2018.

Medical examiner Tim Candahl says he can’t point to a specific reason why suicides are at a record pace.

But he did point out one alarming trend — more college-aged people are taking their own lives.

A Gundersen Health System nurse’s daughter died by suicide nearly 14 years ago, and she wants to let others know they’re not alone.

“She was not someone you would suspect having mental illness at all,” said Deb Mahr, mother of Kaitlin, who passed away from suicide in November 2007.

Kaitlin was someone her mom describes as an overachiever.

“She was a dancer,” Mahr said. “She was valedictorian of her class at Onalaska High School.”

But Mahr says her daughter’s personality changed forever during college.

“It was like night and day,” Mahr said. “I didn’t even know this child anymore.”

At the age of 20, Kaitlin took her own life.

“This was her first time away from home,” Mahr said. “She had a lot to offer, but her mental illness just got in the way.”

In her memory, Mahr helped create a program called Kaitlin’s Table, which helps bring mental health awareness to younger people.

But deaths by suicide are going in the wrong direction.

People dying from suicide are as young as 18, and as old as 80, Candahl said.

But the county right now is seeing more college-aged individuals take their own lives, with four doing so in the county this year, he said.

“That is alarming,” Candahl said.

And Candahl says social media is not helping.

“You know it’s like a game,” Candahl said. “The game never ends up good when it comes to my department.”

It can be difficult for many people who have suicidal thoughts to admit it, Candahl said.

“The ones that come in and say we have a problem, those are the ones that get saved,” he said.

Many mental health resources are available, but Candahl wonders what we can do better.

“It’s the million dollar question. What can we do more of,?” Candahl said.

Mahr says the pandemic is still keeping people isolated from others.

And she says we need to get more people to educate themselves together, before it’s too late for them, and more unwanted records are set.

“It scares me, because I don’t think it’s going to end in the near future,” Mahr said.

The medical examiner’s office recorded 16 suicide deaths in 2019 and 2020.

If you need help, you can always call 2-1-1.

There are many other resources locally and nationally. More information is below.

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