Spot the Signs

Prevent Suicide Fox Cities offers training, support

by Tim Froberg

Cindy Reffke grew up on a farm, so she is accustomed to a hectic schedule. And busy she is.

The Appleton woman runs her own marketing company, Quest Marking Inc., belongs to the Appleton Breakfast Rotary Club, and gets little down time at home as a wife and mother.

But Reffke always makes time to volunteer for something. Reffke is board chair of Prevent Suicide Fox Cities, a nonprofit organization serving Outagamie and Calumet counties that offers suicide prevention education and awareness along with free suicide intervention training and grief support.

Reffke became involved in suicide prevention after her brother-in-law, a 42-year-old military veteran who lived with Cindy and her family, took his own life in 2008. According to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, the suicide rate in the United States has increased 33% since 2019 and is the highest it’s been since World War II.

“Looking back, if my husband and I had been better at spotting the signs we could have gotten him help,” said Reffke. “That’s why it’s important to teach these signs and signals to everyone.”

What specifically are the signs? Some are easy to spot. Others are more complex. Observing behavioral changes is at the top of the list.

“If someone has always been kind of sad, then all of a sudden they’re euphoric, you wouldn’t think that’s a sign, but it is,” Reffke said. “Or it could go the other way. If someone is usually upbeat and happy-go-lucky, then all of a sudden, they’re withdrawn and depressed. If people start giving away their personal and prized possessions, increase their drinking or drug use, talk more about dying, or start making plans for their funeral, those are signs.”

Reffke, the recipient of the Janet Berry Volunteer of the Year award in 2019, adds that it’s important for loved ones to support those who are going through hardships in their life, like divorce, illness, and unemployment, or have become isolated from others. The latter two have become especially prominent during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Right now, people are being furloughed and losing their jobs – people are more isolated and withdrawn,” Reffke noted.

“It’s important to not keep people isolated. It can be hard to reach out to an elderly person but give them a phone call. If your child is staying longer in their room, not coming out, and not wanting to socialize, make sure to have a conversation with them.”

Those conversations can be tough to start but are vital.

“The first thing you need to do is just talk to them,” said Reffke. “How are you feeling? I’ve noticed some changes in you – tell me what’s going on in your life. How is COVID affecting you? Ask open-ended questions they can answer.”

A key to spotting people struggling emotionally in the coronavirus era is to observe their eyes.

“Unfortunately, it’s tougher to interact with someone right now because they may be wearing masks,” said Reffke. “Instead of getting body language, we’re getting eye language, so we have to recognize someone’s eyes. They say eyes are the window to one’s soul and you can tell a lot of times by someone’s eyes if they’re sad or depressed.”

September marked National Suicide Prevention Month and Prevent Suicide Fox Cities worked to raise awareness and funds through a monarch butterfly release at Butterfly Gardens and a 50/50 raffle at Wisconsin International Raceway’s Eve of Destruction event.

For more information, go to, email or call 1-800-273-8255.