Raising awareness can reduce suicide

Hamburg Reporter

The rate of suicides in the US has increased every year since 2006. The CDC estimates that 1.3 million adults attempt suicide each year. 

"Many in our communities can become particularly overwhelmed, which leads to hopelessness," said Suzanne Watson, CEO, Southwest Iowa Mental Health & Disability Services Region. The SWIA MHDS provides stability and support to help those suffering from anxiety, stress, and suicidal thoughts feel better.

National Suicide Prevention Week is an annual week-long campaign created to engage health professionals and the public about suicide prevention. The week will be recognized Sept. 5 through 11, with Sept. 10 designated as World Suicide Prevention Day.

"Knowing there is help can reduce suicide rates. People who have thoughts of suicide often feel relief when someone talks to them in a caring way. Acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideas," continued Watson.

The Hope4IOWA Crisis line is your first call for finding additional crisis services available and funded by the Southwest Iowa MHDS Region. 

In addition, there are ways to protect against suicidal thoughts and behaviors, such as support from family and community or feeling connected. 

Reach out online, the HOPE4IOWA Crisis Call Line (available 24/7 at 844-673-4469). Connections are available through social media, video chat, or by phone. In addition, access to in-person or virtual counseling or therapy can help with suicidal thoughts and behavior.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The Southwest Iowa Mental Health & Disability Services Region (SWIA MHDS) wants everyone to know that suicide is preventable. In addition, many people find talking can alleviate painful suicidal thoughts and feelings. The organization remains dedicated to informing communities about the importance of suicide prevention every day of the year; it will increase efforts during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

SWIA MHDS efforts include sharing the organization's resources, including crisis services such as the HOPE4IOWA Crisis Call Line. The HOPE4IOWA Crisis Line connects individuals in crisis to trained counselors who provide resources to address and help improve mental wellness. The helpline is available 24/7 at 844-673-4469.

"It is the vision of SWIA MHDS to serve the residents of our region by filling gaps in human services," said Ginny Gohr, director, HOPE4IOWA Crisis Call Line. "Suicide is preventable with multiple strategies that include comprehensive ways to help Iowa residents increase their access to various informal and formal supports."

Gohr said suicide has many warning signs, and by recognizing individuals at higher risk, each of us can help prevent suicide. 

"Some signs might include talking about death or dying, significant changes in eating and sleeping habits, social withdrawal from friends and family, losing interest in activities, substance abuse, uncontrolled anger or agitation, and increased risky behaviors," Gohr continued.

The HOPE4IOWA Crisis Call Line was established to improve mental wellness, hope, and outcomes for residents of southwest Iowa in times of crisis. Anyone can call the helpline phone number at 844-673-4469.

Sidebar: Suicide prevention questions and answers

VIctoria VanTol, LISW, family-centered services clinical specialist at Boys Town Iowa, answered some common questions about suicide for us. 

What are some of the warning signs of suicide?

Warning signs of suicide may be verbal or non-verbal, and include the following:

Talking about wanting to die

Feelings of guilt or shame

Talking about being a burden to others

Feeling empty, hopeless, or trapped

Feeling extremely sad, anxious, or angry

Researching ways to die or making a plan to die

Withdrawing from family and friends

Giving away important possessions or making a will

Extremely risky behavior, such as driving very fast

Extreme mood swings

Sleeping or eating more or less

Increased substance abuse

How can people help a person who has expressed an intention to kill themselves?

Provide empathy and a listening ear. Encourage them to talk about their reasons for wanting to stay alive. 

Encourage them to enlist the help of other supports, such as friends or family members. Refer to appropriate resources such as the Hope 4 Iowa hotline if they’re not in immediate danger. 

Ask them if they have a plan for when, where, why, and how they’re going to kill themselves, or if they have ever attempted suicide before. If they’re in immediate danger, offer to take them to the hospital. 

Call 911 if you believe someone is actively harming or getting ready to harm themselves and refuses to go to the hospital. Don’t promise to keep their suicidal thoughts a secret.

Why is there a Suicide Prevention Week? Why is it observed in early September?

It has become more normal to talk about and seek help for mental health issues, especially over the course of the pandemic. However, suicide is still a taboo, stigmatized topic. 

Many who struggle with suicidal thoughts are afraid to ask for help. 

Suicide Prevention Week helps to shift how the public perceives suicidal thoughts, so that more people experiencing them are empowered to find help and support. 

Hopefully, if public perception changes enough, people experiencing depression or other mental health issues feel comfortable enough talking about their symptoms to avoid reaching such a point of crisis.

Early September was designated as Suicide Prevention Week to give a dedicated time to talking about and normalizing the discussion of suicide. 

During this time, awareness is raised about the important protective factors that guard against suicide, such as strong, healthy relationships and supports like therapy. 

Research shows asking and talking about suicide doesn’t raise risks for people who are depressed, but is actually beneficial for people who are struggling in isolation. 

Suicide Prevention Week enables them to understand what they’re facing and learn how to get help.

Where can people turn for help?

The Hope 4 Iowa hotline is a great access point for crisis services. 

Counselors at the hotline are available 27/4 to provide free, confidential services to callers in the form of emotional support, referrals to resources and other services, safety assessment, and safety planning. 

Hope 4 Iowa counselors are able to take emergency action on behalf of callers, such as dispatching law enforcement and mental health professionals, if the need arises. 

Hope 4 Iowa counselors are also able to offer information about suicidal thoughts and problem-solve situations callers may be facing with a loved one who is suicidal.