Op Ed

Suicide Is a Public Health Issue

Steady increase in state’s suicide rate, yet legislative efforts to fund Suicide HOPELINE have failed.

By - Sep 20th, 2019 02:09 pm
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Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

This morning my husband James, who runs his own guardianship business, learned a person he was working with had committed suicide. Later as I pulled the blue wrapper from this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal I read the headline above the fold “Suicide Hotline Funding Stalled”. The real world had once again collided with the hemming and hawing of a legislative process that seems more designed to cater to partisans than meet the needs of the state.

The money that the state budget authorized for helping fund the Center For Suicide Awareness has not yet been allocated. How the $220,000 has not found its way through the process is what seems most confounding.  But in the world of committees and power plays there is always ‘an explanation’. But given the fact that in Wisconsin in 2018, every nine hours a person died by suicide, means there is no explanation that will make sense to those who deal with the problem first-hand.

There were 866 suicides in Wisconsin in 2018 which makes it the 10th leading cause of death. And the second leading cause of death for those ages 18-34. Clearly, this is a public health issue.

The suicide numbers are simply tragic. And I know personally as my best friend committed suicide in 1980 at age 18, three months after high school graduation. So I have a difficult time having anyone try to rationalize the slowness in getting state budgeted money to the place where it can help people in need.

But the leaders of that committee aren’t doing so yet, arguing they should wait to allow the Assembly’s Suicide Prevention Task Force to recommend the best responsible use of the funds. The task force plans to recommend a bill be passed to release the funds, meaning it may be several months, if ever, until [Barb] Bigalke’s organization sees the money.

What is so frustrating, for those who have watched possible funding for suicide services in the Wisconsin legislature over the years, was made very clear by reporter Riley Vetterkind. Since our state’s suicide rate is higher than the national average the past performance of the legislature is hard to grasp.

Legislative efforts to fund the Suicide Awareness HOPELINE have been unsuccessful. In 2018, a bipartisan bill that would have directed about $138,000 to the Center received unanimous support in the Assembly but went nowhere in the state Senate.

The increases in suicide deaths should not be news for the ones who control the power in the statehouse.  The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prove a steady increase in the Wisconsin suicide rate over the past 20 years, from 13.1 per 100,000 persons in 1999 to 16.5 per 100,000 persons in 2016 — a jump of more than 25 percent.

There is no rational argument to be made for the slow pace of completing the legislative work required to make these funds available. The Hopeline, which is an immediate emotional support and resource for people in crisis via text message, is designed to meet the needs of those in the state at their most desperate time of life.  What, pray tell, could be more important to politicians than making sure each person with suicidal thoughts is connected with resources at a time of intense need? The games being played over the release of this money is perhaps the most troubling issue I have become aware of in the legislature in many years.

I am not in any way connecting the news that reached our home this morning with the derelict duties of the current legislature. What concerns me greatly, however, is the need that exists in our communities regarding suicide has not motivated the leaders of the legislature into action that would prevent the necessity of a headline of the kind printed in the paper this morning. To know of the inside baseball quibbles from various members of the legislature concerning which agency did or did not express an “extremely urgent” need for funding underscores the reason many people are more than perplexed by this story. People have every reason to feel disgusted.

When it comes to the safety of our state residents what possibly could be of more importance to legislators who have the power to act now? And why should citizens not be upset knowing, as it was reported that budget committee leaders said they always intended for the funds to be released.

Whatever political games are now underway it needs to be stated the field they are playing on is made up of real people, some of them in dire need of help.

And so it goes.

Gregory Humphrey writes for the Caffeinated Politics blog.

Categories: Health, Op-Ed, Politics

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