Iowa's suicide rate increased more than 35 percent in 17 years
Watch for these warning signs if you suspect a loved one might be suicidal.
Iowa's suicide rate has increased faster than most states' over the last two decades, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control.
Every state but Nevada has seen a rise in deaths by suicide between 1999 and 2016. Iowa saw a 36.2 percent increase during that time; 17 states had a higher rate.
"I'm sad, but I'm not shocked," said Ryan Nesbit, co-chair of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Iowa Chapter. "I fear numbers will continue to rise in Iowa and the whole country."
He attributes the increase to a lack of options for Iowans with mental illness. At least eight Iowa hospitals have closed inpatient psychiatric units in recent years, including state mental hospitals in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.
The state also has a lack of qualified physicians who can treat mental illness. There are only 123 doctors, 122 nurse practitioners and 33 physicians assistants in Iowa who are psychiatrists that can prescribe medicine, according to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Des Moines.
And nearly two-thirds of Iowa's 99 counties lack a mental health prescriber in the county, the organization found.
Gov. Kim Reynolds recently signed a sweeping mental-health bill, providing funding for six regional "access centers" for people who need care but don't require full hospitalization. It also requires suicide prevention training for school employees.
"We've had some good steps in the last year, but we have so far to go," said Teresa Bomhoff, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Des Moines. "Does it offer a promise for the future? Absolutely. But the proof will always be whether we have the funds or the workforce to carry it all the way through."
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The CDC found in its study that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a diagnosed mental health condition.
"Many people who should seek help don't," Nesbit said. "We as a society have to get over that stigma."
The CDC found relationship problems or loss, substance misuse, physical health problems and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to death by suicide nationwide.
It's difficult to pinpoint why the 433 Iowans who died by suicide last year decided to end their lives, said Pat McGovern, data manager and suicide prevention coordinator with the Iowa Department of Public Health.
"Suicide is very complex, and so many factors do play a role in that," he said.
The state is using a new reporting tool to collect "actionable information" on Iowans who die by suicide, including their age, race, means of death and mental health history to determine how to direct resources that will make the most impact, he said.
Suicide in Iowa
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in Iowa:
- Six times as many people die by suicide per year than by homicide.
- One person dies by suicide every 20 hours in the state.
- Suicide is the ninth leading cause of death overall, but second among Iowans ages 15-34 years old.
- The CDC found 47.2 percent of Iowans who died by suicide used a firearm.
- Men are more likely to die by suicide than women.
How to get help
There are several state and national resources for those contemplating suicide, as well as resources for family or friends who may be concerned about a loved one.
- Your Iowa Life — call 855-581-8111 or text 855-895-8398 for free 24/7, confidential support. The lifeline is answered by Iowans. Other resources available online at yourlifeiowa.org. There is also a live chat function on the website.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 800-273-TALK (8255). The lifeline is answered by someone at a crisis center closest to your location. Other resources available online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 for free 24/7 crisis support.
- Central Iowa Crisis Line — Call 844-258-8858 for 24/7 help in Iowa's 10 central Iowa counties. Information is also available online at www.cicsmhds.org.
How to help someone who is suicidal
Your Iowa Life provides some ways to be helpful to someone who is threatening suicide:
- Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
- Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
- Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Don’t dare him or her to do it.
- Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
- Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
- Take action. Remove means, such as firearms or stockpiled pills.