Suicide prevention should be a priority in Iowa

It is becoming increasingly evident that suicides and suicidal thoughts, particularly among students, are a significant concern within our community. We have seen as many Johnson County students die by suicide in the past two years as in the previous six years combined, and many more reported having had suicidal thoughts.

When someone dies by suicide, as with any cause of death, the loss is felt from afar. The ripples of loss have spread from close family and friends to community members, acquaintances and beyond. Everyone exposed to loss will experience different levels of grief and trauma.

Mental health disorders and substance use disorders are the strongest risk factors for suicidal behaviors. Additionally, environmental factors, such as stressful life events and access to guns or drugs, can increase the risk of suicide. Previous suicide attempts and a family history of suicide are also important risk factors.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the third leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15 to 19 worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

According to 2021 data, about 42% of adults in Iowa reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to the NAMI. About one in four people were unable to get the counseling or therapy they needed, often due to cost or a lack of resources in their community.

About 16% of young people in Iowa (ages 12 to 17) were diagnosed with a mental health disorder between 2016 and 2019. About half were receiving care for depression.

This clearly needs to be addressed, as students with depression are twice as likely to drop out of high school as their peers, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Additionally, seven out of 10 young people in the juvenile justice system and two out of five adults in prison have mental health issues or a history of mental illness.

Iowa’s mental health care is in crisis and we are all at risk.

We must address this ongoing challenge, and we call on our elected leaders to ensure that every Iowan has access to needed mental health resources through proper budgeting, universal access, and affordable care statewide.

There are several strategies available to reduce/prevent suicide, including:

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has detailed resources for implementing effective suicide prevention in schools and colleges, emergency departments, and other organizations that serve populations at risk of suicide.

Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255) is available 24 hours a day for help and resources.

Many renowned artists and creative geniuses suffered from mental illness, such as Emily Dickinson. These excerpts from his 19th century poem, “The Soul has Bandaged Moments,” provide insight into Dickinson’s struggle with depression:

The soul has blindfolded moments –

When too dismayed to stir –

She feels a horrible fear rising

And stop looking at her –

Greet her, with long fingers –

Caressing her frozen hair –

Sip, goblin, from the very lips

The Lover – hovered – above –

Unworthy, that such a wicked thought

Accompanying a Theme – so – fair –

Throughout, he depicts a struggle between his soul and “fear,” as his soul experiences fleeting moments of freedom and capture. Dickinson’s poem helps us understand the internal battle many of us have to fight on a daily basis.

We all need to educate ourselves about the warning signs of a loved one contemplating suicide and how best to intervene early to provide care and support. We must continue to raise awareness about mental illness and end the stigma associated with it.

The mind is just an organ of the body which can also get sick like any other. Too many young Iowans, too many Iowans in general, have had their lives cut short by the tragic suicide of a loved one.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen Editorial Board is a group of volunteer readers that meets weekly. They are Venice Berry, Dave Bright, Shams Ghoneim, Robert Goodfellow, Kylah Hedding, Jon Humston and John Macatee.