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Suicide survivors ask others to talk about the topic to remove stigma

MADISON (WKOW) — After two high profile suicides, those who had loved ones who have killed themselves are urging everyone to have the conversation about the issue in an effort to get rid of the stigma surrounding suicide. 

"I just dropped to my knees. I had never felt so sick in my life," said Amy Nolden. 

She vividly remembers the day she got the phone call from her mother, as Nolden enjoyed some time in Hawaii. 

"It was definitely the hardest day in my life," she explained. "I got a phone call from my mom and all she said was, ‘He did it.’ And I know in that moment my dad had committed suicide," she explained as she wiped away tears. 

Nolden admits, as she looks back to the times spent with her dad, there were warning signs she wishes she had acted on. 

"He talked of not being happy, being depressed, erratic behavior," she said. 

Her father suffered with mental illness, but his death still came as a shock. 

"My dad was a successful business owner, had a lot of friends and family," she said. 

The pain of losing her dad is a feeling she doesn’t wish upon anyone. But five years later in 2017, she would go through the same pain, again. 

"My brother also committed suicide. I never imagined I’d be sitting here, you know, losing my father and my brother to suicide. I mean, it was something that never crossed my mind. This can happen to anybody," Nolden said. 

Her brother, Bobby Ollerman, was her best friend and only sibling. 

"I will never be as close to anybody else as I was to my brother," she said. "He was just a week away from getting married."

It’s a tragic story, but a reality for thousands of families all over the country, including in Dane County. 

In 2016, nearly 45,000 people took their own lives in the United States, according to a newly published report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

In the report, Wisconsin saw a 25 percent climb in suicides from 1999. More than half of the people who died by suicide had no known mental illness or had not been diagnosed, according the CDC. 

Experts say the report is startling and should be eye-opening for everyone. Many who work in suicide prevention are asking communities to have conversations about suicide in an effort to rid the stigma surrounding the issue. 

"I mean, if you talk about suicide, you’ll give somebody the idea," said Jane Papalia, who works with Safe Communities in Madison, as she used an example of the stigma. 

"These people are having problems and want to talk about it and we have to be open to listening to them in a non-judgmental way," said Papalia. 

However, she said it’s not one person’s responsibility to help those who are thinking about hurting themselves. 

"It can be a big task, so get a team together of people and call it what it is. We’re having a problem and we’re all going to solve it together," she explained. 

It’s the outreach that Nolden wants others to make, even if you don’t think your friends or family are thinking of suicide. 

"This isn’t a Hollywood story, I mean this is happening in our homes, in our community and to people who we love," said Nolden. 

Another organization in Madison that helps prevent suicide along with Safe Communities is Journey Mental Health. 

In their emergency services department, the phones can be heard ringing, hourly. 

"We receive about 3,000 calls a month about suicide," said Hannah Flanagan, who manages the department. 

When someone in Dane County calls a suicide helpline, odds are her team members are answering the calls. Most of the people on the other end of the line are concerned about someone else considering suicide. 

Flanagan believes asking uncomfortable questions can save someone’s life.

"The primary responsibility of each person in our community is to ask the question and know they don’t have to shoulder this information alone. They can call us and then it’s time for us to take over as the professional," she explained. 

"Without something like this people don’t know where to turn they don’t know where to go for guidance either themselves or the people who love them," Flanagan added. 

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there are many resources that can help: 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
https://afsp.org/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Wisconsin Department of Health Services
https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/mh/suicideprev.htm

Journey Mental Health Center
https://journeymhc.org/emergency-services/#suicide-prevention-hotline

Safe Communities of Madison – Dane County
https://safercommunity.net/

UW Health Services Suicide Prevention
https://www.uhs.wisc.edu/suicide-prevention/

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