Local officials hope “postvention” training could help end suicide contagion

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Chippewa County (WQOW) – Suicide isn’t an easy topic to talk about, but health officials said it’s an important conversation to have as suicide rates rise.

The suicide rate in America is the highest it’s been since World War II. Even worse, the suicide rate in Chippewa County is higher than the state and national averages.

One loss survivor is sharing her story of loss through the Chippewa County Health Department’s postvention training in hopes of saving lives.

“There’s nothing like losing a child,” said Debbra Judnic. Debbra’s daughter Jana died by suicide years ago. “I would love nothing more than to never see a family go through a loss like we’ve experienced.”

“You can see the pain in their eyes,” said Angela Weideman, the director of the Chippewa County Department of Public Health. “You can hear it in their voice. You can feel it in their heart.”

“You’re weakened,” said Debbra. “Whether that’s physically, emotionally, mentally that you’re sometimes not thinking straight and you’re desperate. It’s almost comparative to how the individual who died by suicide, you’re not far from that same state of mind.”

Weideman said every day 123 Americans take their own lives and in Chippewa County, the suicide rates are higher than the state and national averages. She said 19% of Chippewa County students considered suicide in the previous year. “Loss survivors are more at risk, also anyone who has found someone who has died by suicide is at a greater risk,” Weideman said. “Anyone who had a very close relationship with the person and other people in the community that are just struggling with other mental health challenges.”

Because of fears of suicide contagion, the health department is hosting postvention training to teach the community, schools, and media about how to correctly talk about and respond to death by suicide. Postvention is exactly what it sounds like: it’s stepping in after the death to talk about suicide before more tragedies. “People are grieving,” said Weideman. “People are hurting when they lose somebody and we need to provide safe avenues for people to talk about how they’re feeling and what they’re going through to help them heal and recover.”

The postvention training calls for people to have real and blunt conversation with loved ones they think may be suicidal. “Asking that question doesn’t plant a seed for somebody,” Weideman said. “If somebody is thinking about it, and you ask that question it’s almost a sense of relief that comes over that person.”

Debbra participates in the postvention training, sharing what she went through before and after her daughter died by suicide. She said after the heartbreak of losing a child, no one should be afraid of asking a loved one how they’re doing, and whether suicide is on their mind. “I have nothing left to lose,” said Debbra.”I’ve lost the most important thing in my life so I would rather lose a friend than lose somebody by not asking that question.”

Suicide warning signs include someone withdrawing, feeling isolated, saying goodbye to loved ones or giving away their possessions. There are lots of other warning signs though. You can find comprehensive guidance from the National Institute of Mental Health here.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free and available 24/7. Call them anytime (800) 273-8255.

Shannon Satterlee

Shannon Satterlee

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