Suicide prevention task force holds first hearing at the Capitol

MADISON, Wis (WMTV) - Suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Wisconsin, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The Speaker’s Task Force on Suicide Prevention took its first step to address the issue at an informational hearing at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon. The task force was created by Speaker Robin Vos in March.

Several groups testified and gave recommendations to lawmakers, including members of the Dept. of Health Services, the National Conference of State Legislators, Center for Suicide Awareness, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and more.

The volunteer board chair for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Wisconsin chapter, Gena Orlando, said one of the jobs of their volunteer-run organization is to educate the public about suicide prevention and how everyone plays a role.

She said many of their volunteers have a personal connection with suicide.

“I have suffered from depression and mental illness myself. I have a history of mental health issues in my family, and I have lost several close friends and relatives to suicide,” Orlando said.

Members of DHS testified suicide deaths have been steadily rising in Wisconsin, with 915 deaths reported in the state in 2017. That number is causing lawmakers to look into what can be approved.

“We want to help talk about and recommend suicide prevention strategy and recommend policies to make our state smarter about mental health,” Orlando said.

Orlando said she hopes legislators took to heart what they learned at the hearing.

“What I know is that this task force is a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go,” she said.

She said helping to de-stigmatize mental health, broaden resources and educating the public are great first steps.

The task force will hold more public hearings throughout the state and recommendations are expected to be made in the fall.