State health officials are hoping to reverse an alarming increase in the number of Iowans who are choosing to take their own lives. In 2008, 376 Iowans committed suicide. That’s a nearly 14% increase over the previous year.
“I think the concern is that the economy is playing a role in these deaths,” says Dale Chell, suicide prevention coordinator at the Iowa Department of Public Health. “…As much as the economy can play a role, I think if there’s something to emphasize, it would be that it makes those people who are already vulnerable even more so. When they lose a house, they lose a job. It might be that trigger that makes them make that attempt, that suicide attempt that there’s nothing else to live for.”
Last year’s data is not available for all states, but according to a 19 state analysis conducted by the Wall Street Journal, the year-to-year percentage increase in Iowa suicides is second only to Tennessee. Chell says Iowa needs to find a way to help people gain access to mental health care.
“In about 90-percent of suicide deaths, there was an undiagnosed, untreated mental illness such as major depression…and if there’s a way that you can identify those people who are suffering from depression or other mental illnesses – catch them early on and provide treatment and support and counseling – then you can hopefully, down the road, prevent most of the suicide deaths that occur,” Chell says.
Despite the increase in Iowa suicides, the state’s suicide rate still ranks among the bottom half in the nation.