People Reaching out for Help via Hotline is Increasing

Coaches say they’re optimistic that they’re helping people navigate the hardships of the pandemic

MADISON, Wis.– Safe Communities recovery coach supervisor Kristina Vaccaro said she lost her close friend to an overdose during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She was very close to me. She was in recovery and she experienced a relapse and she passed away. She was really involved in all of our events and our overdose campaign that we do in August. She was always there and helping. So this is really tough.”
Vaccaro said her friend had been in recovery for several years and throughout that time, she experienced highs and lows. Although the pandemic can cause added stress for those in recovery and those who are currently using, Vaccaro said she will never know if the pandemic was her friend’s breaking point.

“These are members of our community,” Vaccaro said. “Young members of our community who are family members and friends. It’s heartbreaking.”

While Vaccaro may never know what led to her friend’s relapse, she does know that the pandemic is making many people in recovery consider using again.
Safe Communities recovery coach Rene Simon said the hotline they launched a week ago is “definitely” seeing an uptick in calls from those seeking help.

“My job isn’t to talk somebody out of using at any given moment,” Simon said. “My job is to offer them hope and the possibility that they can stop using if they want to. We don’t want anybody hanging up that phone without at least feeling like they’ve had a chance to connect with a person who is in recovery who understands what they are going through.”

Simon said the first thing she does when she takes a call is thanks the person on the other end because she knows that asking for help from a stranger is difficult.
She then talks with them about what their situation is and asks, “If you want to use right now, what is something else you can do instead?”
Simon and Vaccaro said showing compassion and understanding on top of providing human connection is crucial right now.

Although Simon said it’s heartbreaking to hear that there is an uptick in overdoses, “When we see an increase in opioid deaths, we are [also] grateful to be seeing an uptick in calls because we are able to help those people not end up a statistic.”

The hotline number for Safe Communities is (608)-228-1278. For more information, visit

Original Article:
By: Jamie Perez

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:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

Wisconsin Department of Health Services:

Journey Mental Health Center:

Safe Communities of Madison – Dane County:

UW Health Services Suicide Prevention:

Original Article:

Editorial: The Faces of Suicide

For as much as we talk about suicide – for as much as we talk about talking about suicide – nothing seems as effective in generating discussion of this crisis as seeing the human face of suicide. And thus the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain give us another opportunity to try to understand the taking of one’s life and how we might be able to prevent it.

Dane County actually has a number of powerful voices talking about suicide led by Safe Communities, Journey, Lilada Gee and others. Yet given the statistics, and the number of us who have been touched by suicide and still struggle to acknowledge its prevalence it’s clear we’re not doing enough.

For all the contributing factors like addiction and mental illness, suicide is first and foremost a tragedy – a preventable tragedy. So if the loss of popular culture figures like Spade and Bourdain cause us to look for the why and what if, let’s do it to prevent one striking even closer to our hearts.

Original Article:
By: Neil Heinen

Editorial Credit: Donald Bowers Photography /

Safe Gun Storage Partnerships

In Dane County, more than 25 percent of all injury-related deaths are because of suicide. A Mt. Horeb gun shop owner is doing what he can to help prevent people from hurting themselves in the future.

Chuck Lovelace said he’s seen suicide affect his friends and family. He recently bought a safe to store anyone’s guns at Essential Shooting Supplies, no questions asked.
“We can coordinate for them to come in, with a trusted family member, and they can bring their firearms in and we will store them for them until they’re through their crisis,” Lovelace said.

The person would sign a contract and pay $5 for the shop to run a safety check on the gun. The program follows a suicide prevention approach called “means reduction,” making the environment for someone who might be struggling with suicidal thoughts as safe as possible.

“People can act impulsively when they’re in that situation. The most important thing is to make sure they don’t have easy access to ways to kill themselves,” Cheryl Wittke, executive director of Safe Communities, said.

Wittke said it’s important to have difficult conversations with someone who might be considering suicide. She said asking them how they would kill themselves if they were to do it could be beneficial as research shows talking about suicide is helpful.

“Just validating the person’s feelings and then saying, ‘Hey, I really care about you. You may feel like you’re a burden or you may feel like you don’t matter. You matter a tremendous amount to me and a lot of people,’” Wittke said.

To get their guns back, Lovelace said the person can come back with a trusted family member or friend that can vouch for their mental condition or with a letter from a mental health professional. He adds that people can also bring in ammo, but it won’t be returned with their guns.

Most gun shops in Dane County are promoting safe storage and trying to identify people who may be at risk of suicide, but Essential Shooting Supplies is the first to create a program to store someone’s guns.

It’s so new, no one has taken advantage of the program yet, but Lovelace wants people to know it’s available.

“We’re not only trying to help prevent suicide, but also prevent any other kind of dangerous activity that could happen. It’s not about gun control for us, it’s about the suicide prevention aspect,” Lovelace said.

Wittke said it’s important to look for signs of suicidal crisis, like agitation, anxiety and mood changes. She said removing harmful medications from someone you believe is in a suicidal crisis is a good idea.

Original Article:
By Brittany Paris