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How a suicide text line created in SE Wisconsin is saving countless lives

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Posted at 5:20 AM, Feb 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 10:00:30-05

KAUKAUNA, Wis. — In our Two America’s series, we spotlight a non-profit which developed a confidential text line to save lives.

Center for Suicide Awareness founder Barb Bigalke says since their non-profit began in 2010, trained volunteers have intervened in hundreds of instances where people thought of committing suicide.

"I would try to go to a counselor or try to go to a mental health facility - that’s a two-hour drive and I don’t have any transportation, or we don’t have the finances to it," said Bigalke, who used to work for the Outagamie Victim Crisis Team.

She created the non-profit Center for Suicide Awareness in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. The city in Outagamie County has a population of only 16,000. In 2014 she learned about other organizations across the country creating a text-based Hopeline. Anyone who texts HOPELINE to 741741 is automatically connected to a live fully-trained counselor on the other end. Many in town were skeptical it could even work.

“Not only is it working, but they’re elaborating because they feel safe,” said Bigalke. “When we feel supported, being our authentic self, that's where we thrive.”

She says recent texts include people fearful from the pandemic, hopelessness and 49-percent text in rate about LGBTQIA+ issues.

U.S. Marine Mike Crum intervened at the Center for Suicide Awareness. Seven years later, he continues to volunteer to help soldiers deal with the culture shock of transitioning back into civilian life.

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“I walked a lot of people into emergency rooms. I walked a lot of people into police departments, and I’ve sat with them. It’s that sense of connection that helps somebody stay safe and helps them know that they’re not alone.”

U.S. Marine Crum even created challenge coins for veterans and in law enforcement. The challenge coins have the crisis text line on them.

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Meanwhile, at Kaukauna’s ‘Plan B Bar,’ owner Marty Decoster has trained all of his staff how to talk to struggling patrons.

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The Center for Suicide Awareness gave the bar free coasters and mugs with the number to the text line on it. Decoster says it's working.

“I know customers that take pictures of them. They don’t want to take the glass or the coaster with them. They’ve taken snapshots of the coaster to remember the number, maybe," said Decoster.

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Showing no matter where you live in Southeast Wisconsin, help is just a text away.

U.S. Marine Mike Crum is also supporting a bill that would help law enforcement fund ‘resiliency training.’ This essentially means if the bill was signed into law, police departments across our country would be funded to learn how to process trauma they see on the job every day from professionals. Some of it would to be learning healthy coping skills. Click here to learn more.

Anyone, including concerned friends and family, can text in 24/7 to find resources for their loved ones to find the right help.

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