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Suicide Prevention Highlighted At Weekend Event In Milwaukee

Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee teenager Amaii Collins speaks to the audience at a suicide prevention event at Sherman Park.

Health officials are hoping to slow the increase in Wisconsin suicides seen over the last decade. The state Department of Health Services reports 861 people in Wisconsin died by suicide last year.

Over the weekend, as part of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention held an information session at Sherman Park.

19-year-old Amaii Collins told the crowd that she became very depressed about her then-situation and view of her future during high school. Collins said she stopped laughing and isolated herself from her friends.

"So, when I was finally ready to like disappear and everything like that, I ended up taking a bunch of pills and everything like that. But, I'm still here, so it was unsuccessful," Collins said as the crowd cheered.

Collins said the incident did not end her depression. But soon after, Collins went to an after-school discussion about mental health, where she said she related well to another young woman's stories and cried. Collins also said she learned to talk about her feelings.

Today, she's a mental health advocate and on track to become a manager at a department store.

Chuck Quirmbach
Vaynesia Kendrick at Saturday's event at Sherman Park.

Vaynesia Kendrick said several years ago she also had what she calls a moment of despair. She told friends about it, and they called the police. Kendrick left her home and avoided the authorities, but she said she came to appreciate what her friends did.

"Really realizing, man, to know they called the police, but they care enough that my life is still here and I'm still living," Kendrick told WUWM.

Kendrick is now a community outreach specialist for adolescent suicide with the Milwaukee Health Department and Violence Prevention office. She said she often thinks how her daughter would never have been born if she had gone ahead with suicide. "That's a legacy I would have stopped because of one decision," Kendrick said.

Kendrick urges people to use local mental health groups, agencies, national hotlines or texting numbers, especially if they've just lost a loved one or a job.

And Kendrick said while the weekend event focused on getting the word out to the Black community, suicide is a universal concern.

"It's a Sherman and Burleigh problem. It's a South 16th Street problem. It's a Wauwatosa problem. It's a state of Wisconsin problem. It's a United States problem, it's a global problem," Kendrick said.

Chuck Quirmbach
The Milwaukee Health Department's Community Care-A-Van at Saturday's event.

State and federal statistics show that men are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than women, with higher rates in the white community than other racial groups.

Access to lethal means like firearms or illegal drugs increases the risk of self-harm.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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