On April 28, 2008, Raymond Eiden learned Janesville's General Motors was eliminating the night shift he worked for 27 years. That day, he took his own life.
"After he heard the news about General Motors, he probably had an overwhelming flood of emotions and couldn't think beyond that moment," said his daughter, Vickie Eiden.
Raymond Eiden was among 737 Wisconsin residents who committed suicide in 2008, when suicides hit the highest level in at least 20 years.
Interviews with mental health experts and an analysis of Wisconsin suicide data by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found:
• From 1999 through 2008, 6,513 people committed suicide.
• The state's suicide rate continues to rise, exceeds those of neighboring states and has been higher than the national rate for about a decade.
• Suicide crisis centers in Wisconsin and across the nation report an increase in calls since the recession began.
• Stigma over discussing suicidal thoughts, lack of access to mental health care and insufficient funding continue to be barriers to suicide prevention.
Experts say Wisconsin's high suicide rate relative to those of neighboring states could be linked to a high rate of binge drinking, easy access to firearms and lack of available mental health care, especially in rural areas.
Suicide is the No. 10 cause of death in Wisconsin, behind influenza and pneumonia and surpassing deaths from breast and prostate cancer as well as motor vehicle crashes, according to state Department of Health Services data. Figures for 2009 aren't yet available.
Some suicide crisis center hot lines in the state have reported increases in calls since the economy began to deteriorate. As people lose jobs, they often lose health insurance, financial security, daily routines and colleagues who may lend companionship and support.
"We are very concerned about what the suicide rates for 2009 are going to look like," said Shel Gross, director of public policy for Mental Health America of Wisconsin, a nonprofit outreach program.
"Looking at some of the preliminary data, we think there will be increases in Wisconsin that will probably be more directly attributed to the economic situation."
In Rock County in 2009, where the jobless rate was the state's second-highest for much of the year, the Human Services Department saw a nearly 20 percent increase in suicide crisis contacts such as phone calls and police interventions. Crisis intervention supervisor Brad Munger is concerned the suicide rate for 2009 may be the worst Rock County has seen in more than a decade.
Wisconsin's suicide rate has been higher than the national average since 1998 and has continued to rise, while the national rate has remained relatively consistent.
Wisconsin's rate rose slightly in 2007 and 2008 to about 13 deaths per 100,000. Nationally, about 11 people per 100,000 take their lives each year, according to 2006 data, the most recent available, with higher rates in the Western states.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in Wisconsin.
Men are more than three times more likely than women to kill themselves.
With a suicide rate two and a half times the state average, Menominee County was hit harder than any other county over the past decade.
Experts say the high rate is influenced by alcohol abuse and a lack of access to mental health care and other support services in the small rural county, which is dominated by the Menominee Indian Reservation.
The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with its partners - Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the UW-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication - and other news media.
SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS
People considering suicide may:
• Talk about killing themselves and become fixated on death.
• Make statements of hopelessness and belittle their own worth.
• Suddenly become happier or calmer.
• Lose interest in hobbies.
• Start visiting or calling loved ones.
• Start putting affairs in order and making arrangements or giving things away.
WHAT TO DO
If you notice a warning sign, talk to the person about depression and suicide in a nonjudgmental way to prompt him or her to seek help. If the danger is immediate or if you learn of suicide plans, take immediate action, including calling 911 or taking the person to an emergency room.
Don't try to minimize the person's problems, convince him or her that things will get better or that he or she has many reasons to live. It's better to let the person know that help is available, depression is treatable and suicidal feelings are temporary.
If you deem the danger not immediate, acknowledge the person's suffering as legitimate and offer to help work through the pain. Help to find a doctor or a mental health care professional right away.
IF YOU NEED HELP
If you are contemplating suicide or have lost a loved one to suicide, these state and national organizations offer services such as counseling and support, or can connect you with help:
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.
• Madison-based HOPES: www.hopes-wi.org; 608-274-9686.
• Mental Health America of Wisconsin: www.mhawisconsin.org; 608-250-4368.
• National Alliance on Mental Illness-Wisconsin: www.namiwisconsin.org; 608-268-6000 or 800-236-2988.