Nearly three of every four gun deaths in Wisconsin are suicides, according to a 2017 study by UW-Madison researchers reported in the Wisconsin Medical Journal. That's well above the national average of 60%, a number that's been on the rise for years.
For the first time since the early 1960s, life expectancy in the U.S. dropped for two consecutive years. Suicide is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in America, according to the CDC.
In Dane County, the numbers tell a different story. For the first time in years, the suicide rate is down, falling from around 80 in 2016 to around 65 in 2017.
Madison's Journey Mental Health Center credits the Zero Suicide Initiative for that good news, but agrees Wisconsin still has a way to go.
The Zero Suicide Initiative is a national movement which calls for suicide prevention to be a core component of health care services.
Journey Mental Health works to prevent suicide. It takes 1,000 calls a week and goes on 120 outreach suicide assessments a month. Officials there said suicide is a big problem in Wisconsin, but solving it often can be as simple as reaching out and listening.
"When you see someone who is struggling with depression or someone who says, 'Gosh, I don't even want to wake up in the morning' or 'I don't know why I'm here anymore,' instead of blowing it off or minimizing it, it's important to say, 'Tell me more about that,'" said Hannah Flanagan of Journey Mental Health Center.
From 2000 to 2014, Wisconsin had 6,966 deaths from guns, including 5,020 from suicide, 1,723 from homicide and 223 from other causes, including accidental shootings and police shootings, according to a report from UW-Madison.
University researchers report suicide rates continued to rise in 2015 and 2016, years not covered by the study.
In Wisconsin, suicide is most common in the state's rural areas. The UW-Madison study found suicide most common among men, whites, people age 45 and older, and those living with mental health problems.
Every year, more than 700 Wisconsinites die by suicide, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. An additional 5,500 are hospitalized due to intentional, self-inflicted injury.
"There are a million people out there who are willing to help and walk through this with them," Flanagan said. "Just even having the conversation is a huge step in the right direction. Just having the conversation out loud is very liberating."
Wisconsin's DHS said the cost of inpatient hospitalizations was more than $369 million between 2007 and 2011, but that suicides take an "incalculable toll" on family, friends, and loved ones.
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