A 12-year-old boy from Eau Claire County. A 34-year-old woman from Chippewa County. A 55-year-old man from Eau Claire County. And a 60-year-old woman from Chippewa County.
These four people are among the 128 men, women and children who took their own lives in Chippewa and Eau Claire counties between 2010 and 2014, according to data from 3D Community Health: Body. Mind. Spirit.
And Paula Pater, Kelly Lauscher and Laura Baalrud, all community health educators at 3D, want to help people visualize how many family, friends or neighbors have taken their own lives and think about what it was like to walk in their shoes.
To do that, HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph's hospitals, which created 3D Community Health, in part, to address health and wellness issues in the Chippewa Valley, have created a shoe display that will be put out at all of their mental health events, several of which are planned for September and October.
“Every single one of them was a valuable member of the community,” Pater said during an interview in HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital's Healing Garden, where the display had been set up.
Of the 128 people who killed themselves, 61 lived in Chippewa County and 67 in Eau Claire County, Pater said. Men ages 40 to 59 represented the largest age group among those who completed suicide between 2010 and 2014 — 35 percent, but the youngest to die by suicide was 12 and the oldest was 91.
The display includes 128 pairs of shoes ranging from ballerina flats and boots to sandals and tennis shoes. On each pair, a small card lists the age, gender and county of residence of the person who died by suicide. (The shoes don’t belong to those who took their own lives, Pater said. Instead, they came from staff at the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls hospitals, members of area organizations and others.)
Hoping to call attention to people taking their own lives, Lauscher and others want to talk about suicide and help those seeing the shoes on display realize it isn’t a small issue. (In addition to the pairs of shoes, there is a second display — a 4-by-6-foot wooden display — featuring an assortment of shoes. The ages, genders and counties of those who committed suicide in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties are on a placard next to it.)
In the U.S., more than 41,000 suicides were reported in 2013, the most recent year for which full data were available, making it the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
In Wisconsin, nearly 4 in 5 people who die by suicide are male, according to the state Department of Health Services. Adults aged 45 to 54 experience the highest suicide rate by age.
Of those who take their own lives, about 50 percent have at least one known mental health problem, and more than 40 percent are receiving mental health treatment at the time of death, according to the state office. Personal crises, intimate partner problems, substance abuse problems, physical health issue and job problems are prominent circumstances of suicide.
“It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” Lauscher said of suicide. That said, the shoe displays, in part, are meant to remember those locally who have taken their own lives and honor them.
Pater, Lauscher and Baalrud also want those contemplating suicide to know there is hope and there are many resources to help them.
About 28 years ago, Baalrud went through a bout of depression she didn’t know how to get herself out of. Her family recognized her struggle and took her to get help.
“If you’re thinking about suicide, tell someone and don’t do it today,” Baalrud said. “Once you get the help that you need, life can be happy and fulfilling.”
There also are options for others interested in learning how to recognize someone might be thinking of committing suicide, how to help friends or family suffering from mental illness and how to cope with the loss of a loved one through suicide, she, Lauscher and Pater said.
“We are hoping to talk to anyone who will have us,” said Baalrud, and that includes businesses and schools.
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