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November 15, 2019

Delaney fitzpatrick/lakeland times

Community members came together last week to have an open conversation about mental health. Pictured, from left, are panel members Shirley Limberg, Mick Fiocchi, moderator Mary McFerrin, and Janet Tenge.
Delaney fitzpatrick/lakeland times

Community members came together last week to have an open conversation about mental health. Pictured, from left, are panel members Shirley Limberg, Mick Fiocchi, moderator Mary McFerrin, and Janet Tenge.
9/17/2019 7:30:00 AM
Mental health awareness forum held in Minocqua
Delaney Fitzpatrick
Of the Lakeland Times

In recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month, community members gathered at Ascension Lutheran Church on the evening of Sept. 11 for a Mental Health Awareness program.

The panel included Mick Fiocchi, a National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) speaker; Janet Tenge, a family counselor from Rhinelander; and Shirley Limberg of Limberg and Associates in Minocqua.

The conversation was primarily focused on suicide, which often results from an undiagnosed mental illness.

Fiocchi acknowledged that talking about mental heath and suicide is difficult. In regards to the stigma that continues to surround each issue, he said, "I believe it comes from ignorance compounded by fear."

The ability to open up a discussion about suicide is especially important in the Northwoods. According to a survey by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Vilas County had the second highest suicide rate in the state with 21.2 percent per 100,000 residents in 2009-2013. In comparison, Oneida County's suicide rate was 16.5 percent, which means both counties are over the state average of 13.5 percent.

These statistics have been increasing across the country in recent years. The panel discussed how one of the main reasons suicide rates may be climbing in the Northwoods is a lack of resources.

A scarcity of local psychiatrists means appointment slots fill up quickly. Families often have to wait up to six months for a consultation. A large amount of responsibility has subsequently fallen to primary care providers, who are able to prescribe medication, but as a clinician from Marshfield Clinic pointed out during the forum, the real issue in the Northwoods is counseling.

As a result of this added strain, she mentioned that a growing number of primary care providers are receiving psychiatric training.

The panel stressed that it's important to remember one's mental health affects more than just the individual; it affects family and friends as well. Many attendees shared personal experiences dealing with family or friends with a mental illness.

The panelists acknowledged that there is only so much one can do to support these loved ones. They urged family members that instead of accepting defeat, caregivers must exercise agency in educating themselves about resources available to not only loved ones, but to themselves.

These types of discussions are crucial in destigmatizing conversation around mental health and suicide. By spreading community awareness, the panel hopes families and individuals will be better informed about local resources and will feel empowered to seek help when in need.

Local resources

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

• If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call: Tri-County Crisis Number (Forest, Oneida, Vilas): 1-888-299-1188; National Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); Veteran's Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1).

• If you're uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

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