One in 20 adults in Fox Valley have made a plan for suicide in the past year and one in 10 have at least thought about ending their own life, according to newly released survey results.
These findings from the Fox Cities Mind Your Wellness survey come as suicide ranks among the top 10 causes of death in Wisconsin. A preview of the survey was released Sept. 8, during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, to address the mental health crises that are aggravating the state’s most vulnerable groups.
The survey was conducted by NEW Mental Health Connection, which was created by the Medical College of Wisconsin and coordinated with United Way Fox Cities. The survey focuses on Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago counties, in an effort to fully represent disparity groups, which include seniors, veterans, LGBTQ people, black people, Indigenous people and other people of color, as well as people living in low-income homes.
The survey results will inform Connection’s strategies for Project Zero, a program dedicated to suicide prevention in Fox Valley.
Building relationships in the community between these disparity groups is an important piece of the puzzle, says Kathy Flores, anti-violence program director at Diverse and Resilient, an Appleton advocacy group that participated in the survey.
“One of the things that can be very frustrating for oppressed groups in the community (at work) is when people don’t communicate with us and just extract our data,” Flores said during the Connection meeting of the September 8, while expressing gratitude to the organizations behind the Mind Your Wellness survey who worked behind the scenes with Diverse and Resilient.
The survey opened in May 2021 and ended last June and was available in English, Spanish and Hmong. Connection collected 1,259 responses from residents in 11 demographic groups representative of the demographics of the three counties.
Survey specialists noted that the project began when the world was in a state of flux during the pandemic, which may have affected how people responded to the survey.
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Residents open up about mental health, but they don’t see specialists
The majority of Fox Valley residents say they are comfortable talking about their mental health issues, but less than half said they seek professional care. This points to a need for more peer-focused services in the community, said Sara Kohlbeck, director of the Medical College of Wisconsin’s suicide prevention unit.
“What that tells us is that people are comfortable talking about these issues, but they might be looking for more informal support from friends, family, things of that nature. “, said Kohlbeck.
Informal support can also include using the internet in stressed states, but survey results show that people exposed to four or more hours of non-work-related screen time per day are twice as likely to report symptoms of anxiety than those who spend less time on computers, televisions and cell phones.
Survey results show that Fox Valley residents who identified as LGBTQ sleep fewer hours than other respondents, and half fail to get enough rest at night. This is important because sleep is a lifestyle factor that can affect a person’s mental well-being and executive functions.
A lack of sleep could contribute to another survey finding: LGBTQ respondents in Fox Valley were about twice as likely to have symptoms of anxiety and 11 times as likely to have attempted suicide at least once. times in the last year.
Flores clarified that it wasn’t a person’s identity that made her more anxious or suicidal. Instead, multiple environmental factors are to blame, ranging from housing instability to hateful violence.
“Hate of violence…social exclusion, social isolation, oppression by systems that are not designed by us, for us or with us, are all part of the problem,” Flores said.
Overall, Kohlbeck said he was surprised that more than half of those surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety and 43% said they experienced symptoms of depression, including sadness and anger.
Among respondents who had suicidal thoughts, Kohlbeck said they were 33 times more likely to have symptoms of depression and 39 times more likely to have symptoms of anxiety compared to people who did not. contemplated suicide.
“We really see the impact of anxiety on suicidal ideation among people in the community,” Kohlbeck said. “Thinking of people who suffer from anxiety, people who suffer from depression, how can we integrate suicide prevention and intervention efforts into our resources and into the services we provide?”
One of the main takeaways is the importance of social connections which are known to be protective of mental well-being. The pandemic has added to the extent to which isolation increases anxiety and depression.
The degree of isolation a Fox Valley resident has experienced in the past year increases their odds of reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety by 17 times and 49 times, respectively.
Beth Clay, executive director of NEW Mental Health Connection, said the survey was conducted to fill a gap in available data on the behavioral health of local adults.
“We really wanted Project Zero’s strategies to flow from our local tri-county adult data rather than looking at national data and extrapolating it for local use,” Clay said. “Our community really needs to speak for itself so that our strategy can flow from these raw results.”
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Natalie Eilbert covers mental health issues for USA TODAY NETWORK-CENTRAL WISCONSIN. She welcomes story tips and comments. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her Twitter profile at @natalie_eilbert. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text “Hopeline” to the National Crisis Text Line at 741-741.
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