Families remember loved ones at suicide awareness summit

26 people lost their lives to suicide in La Crosse County last year

26 people lost their lives to suicide in La Crosse County last year. On Wednesday, hundreds gathered at the La Crosse Area Suicide Prevention Summit to discuss ways to keep that number from continuing to climb.

At the summit, there were many different talks about identifying warning signs, grieving, and suicide within the military and LGBTQ communities. It was a day of learning, but also a day to remember those who are gone.

24-year-old Sam Mahr lost his sister Kaitlin when he was just 16.

“On November 19th 2007 she died by suicide,” Sam Mahr said.

Kaitlin suffered from depression and bipolar disorder and was a junior in college when she died.

“College just seemed to be the trigger and actually the night before her boyfriend broke up with her and that just seemed to be just the last little hurdle that she just couldn’t get over,” said Kaitlin’s mother Debra Mahr.

In the 8 years since Kaitlin’s death, her family has grieved but is also using what happened to help other young adults dealing with mental illness.

“We decided something needed to be done, so we started Kaitlin’s Table,” said Debra Mahr.

The organization was key in creating a new La Crosse YMCA teen center and is one of the sponsors of Wednesday’s Suicide Prevention Summit.

“Suicide is becoming a very prominent issue in this community; last year alone La Crosse County had 26 suicides. So far this year I believe the count is at 20 so we may break last year’s record and that should not be happening,” said Debra Mahr.

Twelve sessions were held at the summit ranging from parental grieving to spotting warning signs.

“The more people who are educated about suicide and how to get someone help, the more lives will be saved,” said Geri Mulliner, a member of the La Crosse Area Suicide Prevention Initiative.

Organizers said creating an open discussion about the topic will encourage more people to seek help.

“Talk about it, help other people, it isn’t quite the taboo subject it used to be,” Mulliner said.

For Kaitlin’s brother Sam, the education and discussion won’t stop at the summit. He is currently studying at Viterbo to become a mental health worker, and will continue to help young adults through Kaitlin’s Table.

“We really want to keep her name and who she was alive, and we are her voice,” Sam Mahr said.

September is national Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can call Great River’s 24-hour crisis and referral service at 211.