Agency Aims to Bring Awareness to Suicide

One person dies by suicide every 13 minutes in the United States, according to Barb Bigalke, founder and executive director of the Center for Suicide Awareness. She also points out:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, just after traffic accidents.
  • Twenty-two U.S. veterans die every day by suicide.

While September is Suicide Awareness Month, the mission of the Center for Suicide Awareness is to create awareness of these staggering statistics every month of the year.

The Walk for Suicide Awareness will be held on Sept. 16, beginning at Hydro Park in Kaukauna.
The Walk for Suicide Awareness will be held on Sept. 16, beginning at Hydro Park in Kaukauna.

The nonprofit agency, which is based in Kaukauna, is a statewide organization that provides support, education and resources to individuals, families, veterans, schools, businesses and community agencies. Free support groups are available for youth and adults. The focus is on teaching coping skills, discussing the stages of grief and simply being available for folks.

“We are there for people,” Bigalke said. “We are very much an agency that works with people where they are in their journey. It’s not about judgement. It’s about respect and dignity and where can we help.”

One of the agency’s largest events is the Walk for Suicide Awareness slated for Sept. 16 at Hydro Park in Kaukauna. The event has been growing every year since 2010.

“Sometimes people think they are fundraisers,” Bigalke said, “but they are actually awareness events. It’s really about breaking down the stigma. It is OK to ask for help. We all struggle. When we reach out for help it’s a strength, not a weakness.”

The agency also provides drop-in support groups for veterans and current military members and their families, along with support for youth and adult survivors of suicide; informational presentations on suicide prevention; mental health stigma reduction; and AODA support.

The Center also operates HOPELINE 741741, Wisconsin’s only statewide text-based emotional support service. Crisis-trained volunteer responders provide immediate emotional support and resources to anyone who texts, 24/7. A Spanish version of the service is APOYO 741741.

Bigalke said the service provides a window of opportunity for the person who is contemplating suicide and reaching out for help.

Today, HOPELINE receives 235 text messages each month from people in Wisconsin. Bigalke said the service is more than a suicide prevention line – it provides emotional support to people who are struggling and reaching out for help.

“Any time you’re having that bad day, you’ve lost your job, you just broke up – any time you need that emotional support – that is the mission of the HOPELINE.”

One of Bigalke’s most significant accomplishments is the production of the YouTube video, “If You Only Knew What You Left Behind.” In 2014, the video won the Telly Award for the best documentary in the Social Issue/Causes category. She said agencies around the world have been reaching out to inquire about this free resource. A college of nursing in Australia incorporated the video into one of its teaching units. The United Kingdom added it to a health class. The University of Utah is using it for a psychology class.

“Suicide has no discrimination and it can affect anyone,” she said. “That’s why we have to continually bring that awareness piece so people know the warning signs and how to get involved.”

If you want to go
What: Walk for Suicide Awareness
When: Saturday, Sept. 16
Registration: 8:30 a.m. check-in
10 a.m. walk begins
Where: Hydro Park
100 Crooks Ave.
Kaukauna, WI 54130