Madison family strives to prevent suicide after personal losses
Changing the narrative around mental health is a cause they’ve been working on for decades.
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Madison family is hoping to bring conversations about mental health to the table, after experiencing the impacts of suicide firsthand.
Don’s Home Furniture, just off the Beltline in Madison, frequently has chair displays out front. The chairs are, of course, for sale, but during the month of September and through early October the arrangement had a deeper meaning.
“It’s not a subject that you just bring up in casual, everyday conversation, but if someone were to ask us about what do the colors mean of the chairs outside, we’ll sit and talk,” said Blaine Neupert, Co-Owner of Don’s Home Furniture.
Among the brightly colored Adirondacks was a single black chair in the middle, representing those who’ve died by suicide.
“We talk about suicide a lot and depression awareness in our family,” said Tina Neupert, Co-Owner of Don’s Home Furniture.
The Neuperts said they are hoping to spread awareness about suicide prevention and rid the subject of stigma that so often prevents open dialogue.
“In Wisconsin suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers, behind accidents. So, it’s really a big issue in Wisconsin and it’s not always talked about very often,” explained Tina.
Changing the narrative around mental health is a cause they’ve been working on for decades, after experiencing tragedy.
Tina’s father, Martin Derer, died by suicide in 1988 when he was 42 years old. At the time, Tina was in college.
“When people asked me how my dad died I just kind of lied. Oh, he must have had a heart attack. He was really young and I’d go, yeah. It was a lot easier than explaining what happened,” she expressed.
Nearly 10 years later, her younger brother Daryl Derer also died by suicide. He was just short of turning 23 years old.
“We definitely took a different approach with that one, we openly told everyone that he had taken his own life,” said Tina, adding, “had we asked the correct questions maybe he would be here today, but we didn’t know the right questions to ask.”
After that, Tina said she began to experience depression and PTSD from being on the scene shortly after his death. She and her mother, Pat Derer, started attending a support group and met others who had lost family members to suicide too.
“Depression and mental health issues are biochemical issues, but I think there’s so much shame attached to them. People look at them as being a personal downfall instead of saying hey this runs in my family, I need to go get some help,” said Tina.
From there, their family made it their mission to learn how to save others and spread the word.
“If you see somebody struggling, if you ask the right question, are you thinking about hurting yourself? I really see you’re struggling. You’d be surprised. A lot of people will tell you yes,” explained Tina.
Tina and Pat went on to help found an organization called HOPES (Helping Others Prevent and Education about Suicide) in 1998. Through it, they hosted 5k walks from 1999-2015 that also served as fundraisers for suicide prevention and awareness. They also traveled to speak to students in area schools about their mission. HOPES was active through 2016.
Tina and Blaine said the knowledge they’ve gained over the last two decades has proven to be lifesaving while raising their now-adult children.
“We have a child that has mental health issues. We’ve been through that struggle with her too and we’re better educated so we were able to save her and she’s doing really well right now,” explained Tina Nuepert.
“Even if someone seems just a little depressed or a little upset, talk about it. Don’t be afraid of it,” added Blaine Nuepert.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health and needs help, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.
If you live in Dane County, you can also call Journey Mental Health’s 24-hour crisis line at 608-280-2600.
Journey Mental Health Center President & CEO, Tanya Lettman-Shue, said last year that help line saw a 5% increase, receiving 42,000 calls.
“A majority of those calls end up being resolved pretty quickly by referrals to care or connecting those individuals to alternative services or helping them work through that mental health need in the moment, but for those who are struggling with a greater intensity of depression or suicidal thoughts we end up doing outreach and providing that service in real time,” said Lettman-Shue.
If you’re concerned about someone, Lettman-Shue said you should ask that person directly if they are having suicidal thoughts or if they have plans to hurt themselves or others. If they say yes, she explained that you can call a help line together and take the first steps toward getting them help.
“If we can help make that intervention and understand that as parents it’s not a failure if our child has a suicidal thought, as a partner it’s not a failure if our partner has a suicidal thought, it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us to make that intervention, to make that connection, and to help that individual go into problem solving mode,” expressed Lettman-Shue.
She added that about one in five adults and one in three young people nationwide struggle with a mental health concern. Although, she feels hopeful that stigmas surrounding these conversations are starting to go away.
“I really credit our younger generation. They’re no longer willing to stay silent about it and are much more likely to talk about the prevalence of their mental health concerns,” explained Lettman-Shue.
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