By Shereen Siewert

Suicide rates rose by nearly 26 percent in Wisconsin since 1999, according to a study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The sharp increase in suicides in Wisconsin is higher than the national average, which sits at about 24 percent. Suicide numbers spiked in all but one state between 1999 and 2016, according to the most recent data available.

Also notable: in more than half of all deaths in 27 states, victims had no known mental health condition when they ended their lives, though the CDC acknowledges that mental health conditions could have been present and not diagnosed, known, or reported.

Only Nevada recorded a decline for the overall period, although its rate remained higher than the national average. The decline in Nevada was 1 percent.

Increasingly, suicide is being viewed not only as a mental health problem but a public health one. Nearly 45,000 suicides occurred in the United States in 2016 — more than twice the number of homicides — making it the 10th-leading cause of death. Among people ages 15 to 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death.

The most common method used across all groups was firearms.

“At what point is it a crisis?” asked Nadine Kaslow, a past president of the American Psychological Association. “Suicide is a public health crisis when you look at the numbers, and they keep going up. It’s up everywhere. And we know that the rates are actually higher than what’s reported. But homicides still get more attention.”

One factor in the rising rate, say mental health professionals as well as economists, sociologists and epidemiologists, is the Great Recession that hit 10 years ago. A 2017 study in the journal Social Science and Medicine revealed that a rise in the foreclosure rate during the downturn was associated with an overall increase in suicide rates. The increase was higher for white males than any other race or gender group.

The dramatic rise in opioid addiction also can’t be overlooked, experts say, though separating accidental from intentional deaths by overdose can be problematic. The CDC has calculated that suicides from opioid overdoses nearly doubled between 1999 and 2014, and data from a 2014 national survey showed that individuals addicted to prescription opioids had a 40 to 60 percent higher risk of suicidal thoughts. Habitual users of opioids were twice as likely to attempt suicide as people who did not use them, the survey showed.

High suicide numbers in the United States are not a new phenomenon. In 1999, then-Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report on the state of mental health in the country and called suicide “a significant public health problem.” The latest data at that time showed about 30,000 suicides a year.

The problems most frequently associated with suicide are difficulties in relationships; work or finance stressors; substance use problems; physical health issues; and recent or impending crises. The most important takeaway, mental health professionals say, is that suicide is an issue not only for the mentally ill but for anyone struggling with serious lifestyle problems.

The rates of suicide for all states and the District of Columbia were calculated using data from the National Vital Statistics System. Information about contributing circumstances for those who died by suicide was obtained via the National Violent Death Reporting System, which is relatively new and in place in 27 states including Wisconsin.

Know the 12 Suicide WARNING SIGNS

  • Feeling like a burden
  • Being isolated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increased substance use
  • Looking for a way to access lethal means
  • Increased anger or rage
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking or posting about wanting to die
  • Making plans for suicide

5 Steps to help someone at risk

  1. Ask.
  2. Keep them safe.
  3. Be there.
  4. Help them connect.
  5. Follow up.

Find out how this can save a life by visiting:

Preventing suicide involves everyone in the community.

Provide financial support to individuals in need.
  • States can help ease unemployment and housing stress by providing temporary support.
Strengthen access to and delivery of care.
  • Healthcare systems can offer treatment options by phone or online where services are not widely available.
Create protective environments.
  • Employers can apply policies that create a healthy environment and reduce stigma about seeking help.
Connect people within their communities.
  • Communities can offer programs and events to increase a sense of belonging among residents.
Teach coping and problem-solving skills.
  • Schools can teach students skills to manage challenges like relationship and school problems.
Prevent future risk.
  • Media can describe helping resources and avoid headlines or details that increase risk.
Identify and support people at risk.
  • Everyone can learn the signs of suicide, how to respond, and where to access help.


If you need help for yourself or someone else:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Talk: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)


2 replies on “CDC: Suicide rates up sharply in Wisconsin”

  1. Having worked in health care, psychiatric care, and Crisis suicide assessment and intervention between 1977 and 2016 in Wisconsin suicide rates in Wisconsin and in Marathon County have always been above the natioal averages. The implemented QPR (question, persuade, referral) program is a costly ineffective program (as are most all other programs) and will be until the laws regarding the inability to treat individuals who are exhibiting questionable possible suicidal or homicidal behaviors are significantly changed. As of 2016 if an individual makes a threat to harm themself or others but later recants the threat or denies the threat was made or intended they generally are not held for an inpatient assessment by a psychologist or psychiatrist and were only referred for outpatient counseling services due to the extremely high financial cost to the counties and the fact that the individual’s personal freedom are being infringed upon. In addition, people who are incarcerated who persisrently present a “normal” presentation (not severely depressed, despondent, or admitting to persistent thoughts of harm to self or others among other criteria) are often released into the public arena after a maximum 72 hour hold with or without antidepressant medication(s) at which time they can pursue their original intentions of harm to themselves or others. Of course there are individuals (both adult and adolescent) who don’t present any changes in behaviors noticeable to those around them who end their lives. This may because they present a persistent negative or depressed attitude which those around them feel is their normal personality or they just don’t present any significant symptoms. People who commit suicide, self harm, or harm others are often of higher intelligence and aside from those who harm themselves or others while under the influence of alcohol or othe substances have often thought through the actions they want to take and the reasoning for them many times until they become part of ther thought processes. At some future point or later date (even months or years later)they may enact their plan to harm themself even when things apparently are “going their way”. There are many aspects to self harm and suicide whIch many very smart people (much smarter than I am) have written volumes on without significant changes in the death rates of adults or adolescents. Because this is a comment section iand is intended to be brief (which unfortunately this isn’t) there are many factors including the lack of reporting of suicides in some states and some counties in some states which could skew the numbers significantly. I feel that not only is there the mentally ill or unstable who feel entitled to things they have not earned but also a growing disregard for human life which has filtered down to the thought processes of adults and children which makes them feel their lives are not only disposable but dispensible.

  2. I live with a chronic pain condition and was on a low dose of opiods to help me control the pain. On a good day I was still a 7 out of 10 on the pain scale but it took the edge off. I have a condition called Ehlers Danlos syndrome which is a connective tissue disorder. to simplify it for you, I am the rubberman in the circus.The disorder also comes with many other problems since connective tissue holds the body together. My pain comes from me constantly dislocating joints. My left shoulder hangs an inch out of the socket so every movement is tearing. My left knee twists out of joint with every wrong step. My right hip slips out with every step. Because of the opiod panic my pain meds were taken away. With those pain meds i could walk around my house and get to the car. Without them I am in a wheelchair. I’m waiting for a ramp to be built so I can leave the house. Most days the pain is excruciating. I have tried to at least walk enough to get out of my bedroom in case there is a fire but the pain is too bad to get much further. I’m not depressed and look forward to a day when I can hopefully get my meds back so I can walk. Some days though when the pain is so bad I do think if I stay in this much pain that I’d be better off dead. Right now I’m hopeful. I know of several people in my condition that have killed themselves after being taken off their pain meds because they are in excruciating pain. I think as more people that actually need pain meds to be at least a little comfortable are taken off them the suicide rate will soar. No doubt they will mistakenly be lumped in with opiod overdoses. Look at those 12 warning signs…..most are people in physical pain. Pain clinics need to man up and fix the pain and no surgery or physical therapy does not fix dislocating joints from EDS.

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