Jefferson County forms Zero Suicide Coalition

Jefferson County forms Zero Suicide Coalition

 By Ryan Whisner | Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2017 7:50 am             

JEFFERSON — Each year, more than 700 Wisconsin residents die by suicide.

No age, race or socioeconomic class is immune.

“There is no good number except for zero when it comes to suicide,” Jefferson County Medical Examiner Nichol Tesch says.

Across the nation, coalitions are forming to spread awareness of suicide and reduce the numbers by educating people about the available resources. The goal: zero suicides.

Jefferson County’s Zero Suicide Coalition’s mission is to develop and implement evidenced-based strategies for significantly lowering the incidence of suicides.

Tesch noted that the foundational belief of Zero Suicide, the national organization, is that suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable.

While it is a nationwide goal, coalitions are forming in individual counties to spread awareness of suicide-prevention resources.

“We have to not be afraid to say the word and get it out there and let everybody know there are places they can call and places they can text message,” Tesch said about suicide. “We are quite an educated county in reference to crisis counseling and doing what we can to assist the community, and we are so community-oriented.”

Headed by Jefferson County Emergency Mental Health supervisor Kim Propp, the Jefferson County Zero Suicide Coalition is made up of representatives of the Jefferson County Human Services and Health departments, other healthcare professionals, local funeral directors, Tesch and members of the general public.

“Anybody can join; it is just a matter of giving your opinion on how can we get this number to zero,” the medical examiner said.

The coalition meets at the Jefferson County Human Services Department every second Tuesday of the month at 1 p.m. to discuss the statistics and what can be done.

“Basically, zero suicide requires a system-wide approach to improve the outcomes of these numbers,” Tesch said.

The suicide rate has been climbing in Jefferson County over the past five years, with 43 people taking their own life from 2012-16.

At the time information for this story was collected, there had been 16 in 2017, including three from October to November. There were nine suicides recorded in 2016.

“There is no good number except for zero,” Tesch emphasized. “It sounds unreachable, but it is the only number to reach for. For those seeking to help, it is a disturbing trend.”

Other than recognizing that the overall number of suicides is rising, Tesch said, there is no trend within those numbers.

Even from an age perspective, this year’s victims ranged from 16- to 71 years old.

“We can’t pinpoint anything, there is no pinpointed location, there is nothing specific about any of these,” she said.

She pointed out that although there is a recognized heroin epidemic, overdoses are rarely categorized as suicides.

“In order to rule someone’s overdose as suicide, there has to be a blatant showing of suicide,” Tesch said, referring to a note or something that makes it clear it was suicide. Without that, we really can’t prove it, so it does default to accidental.”

More than half of the suicide victims in Jefferson County were not seeking any mental health assistance at the time of their deaths.

“Just because you are on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication doesn’t mean you are seeking mental health assistance,” Tesch said. “It just means you are being treated for something like that.”

However, a suicide could have been just a spontaneous event resulting from a relationship break-up, a job issue or some other home-based event.

“We’re finding that they are not reaching out for assistance,” she said. “With the lack of healthcare, there a lot of people who don’t want to see a physician because they don’t want to and there are others who don’t have insurance and can’t and others who don’t know there are resources.”

Tesch said the various help lines are just that: resources to help point people in the right direction.

The purpose of the coalition is to help spread the word so people are aware of the resources available.

“We want to have some of this information out there to let people know that they can have an outlet,” Tesch said. “They can call us. Just call somebody and let them know you are feeling down and you would like to talk to somebody.”

Some of the resources include the following:

• If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the Jefferson County Human Services Emergency On-Call number (920) 674-3105. After hours and on weekends, press 7 and there is someone on call at all times.

• If you are uncomfortable talking on the telephone, you can text HOPELINE to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Center for Suicide Awareness text line.

• Other options are to contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) or download suicide prevention apps to your phone.

• If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency, call 911 immediately.

Tesch noted that those resources are there to help.

“The hope is to continue to grow the coalition to help spread awareness of the resources and reduce the number to zero,” she said.

Currently, Jefferson County’s Zero Suicide Coalition is in the planning stages of developing an awareness walk to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Month in September 2018.

For more information on the Zero Suicide Coalition, visit or contact Jefferson County Human Services at (920) 674-3105 and ask for Kim Propp.