Wisconsin secures $868K grant from CDC for suicide prevention, advocates looking to build, expand resources

NOW: Wisconsin secures $868K grant from CDC for suicide prevention, advocates looking to build, expand resources

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- New funding will soon allow the state of Wisconsin to increase efforts to prevent suicide.

The state's Department of Health Services announced Thursday, Sept. 15 it secured a five-year grant from the CDC.

DHS says the money will be used to reduce deaths in areas of the state with the highest rates of suicide. Health experts and survivors say it will help save lives because prevention measures work.

Marissa Baylerian is a mental health advocate. She said when people have suicidal ideations, "I see their struggle. And I see my former self in them."

Marissa has come out the other side. Five years ago, after struggling with several issues in her life, she says she had suicidal ideations and hit rock bottom.

Her mother called the suicide hotline, the first step on a road to healing. Marissa said, "After that phone call with the suicide hotline, these steps were small steps but monumental steps."

More resources like the ones that helped Marissa will soon be available throughout Wisconsin, thanks to a grant from the CDC for more than $868,000. Similar funding is expected over the next four years.

Suicide prevention experts say it will go a long way.

Andrea Nauer-Waldschmidt, the co-chair of Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee, said the grant will "Increase access to care. So for individuals to know where they can go to receive the right care at the right time."

Firstly, they say the money can help scale up existing resources.

Melissa Waldo, a bilingual psychotherapist at Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, said, "We really want to make sure people are aware that they can talk about these things, and there's a good chance we can provide support."

And secondly, it can help build resources that are currently lacking, like more culturally competent care.

Nauer-Waldschmidt said, "There's been a growing number of individuals within the BIPOC community that have had increased rates of suicide attempts as well as deaths by suicide."

And it's needed now more than ever.

Suicide increased by 32% in Wisconsin over the past 20 years. It's now the tenth-leading cause of death in the state.

In Milwaukee County, the Medical Examiner reports the number of suicides has steadily risen since a spike in 2017.

Waldo said, "Mental health has only gotten harder, and worse, I would say, throughout this pandemic."

But the experts also say some good has come out of the pandemic: there is an increased willingness to talk about suicide, and there is much more flexibility for treatment, with online therapy and telehealth resources.

It's partly why Marissa is hopeful when she sees some of her past self in people currently struggling. "I know that there is hope for them. And so the more we're talking about it, the more I think they're going to feel ok to reach out."

The number for the suicide lifeline is 988.

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