Three walks are planned in Iowa over the next few weeks to raise awareness about the state’s record high suicide rate — and to help those who’ve been left behind. New state figures find 376 Iowans killed themselves last year. That’s more than one a day, the most ever in a year and nearly 50 deaths above the average.

Dale Chell, the state health department’s youth suicide prevention coordinator, says walks are planned in Cedar Rapids, Ankeny and Mason City. “The primary goal is to get suicide survivors to come out and recognize they’re not alone,” Chell says. “There’s others like them who are suffering some of the same battles they are in terms of working through their grief who have lost a loved one to suicide.”

The 2008 Iowa Youth Survey found 17% of 11th grade girls admitted attempting suicide and 4% admitted to three or more attempts. Nationwide, suicide is the number-three cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24. In Iowa, suicides are much more prevalent over a wider demographic.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Iowans between the ages of 15 and 40. Unintentional injuries, like car crashes, are the leading killer in that age group. Chell says one contributing factor to the high suicide rate is likely the recession. “When you have a worsening economy, you do have a higher rate of suicide deaths,” Chell says. “I think people who are already vulnerable when they have foreclosures, loss of a job, those might be the triggers that result in them deciding to take their life.”

Chell says the walks, called Out of the Darkness, are designed to promote awareness of the state’s climbing suicide rate and to offer assistance. “I don’t think many Iowans know what a big problem it is,” Chell says. “For every suicide death, you have multiple suicide attempts. You have a lot of people out there who are suffering and many of them silently from a mental illness, primarily major depression, that there’s a lot of stigma around.”

A hotline is available around the clock for anyone with concerns about themselves or a loved one: 800-273-TALK. The dates for the walks are: this Sunday (September 13th) at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids, September 20th in Ankeny at the DMACC Lake, and October 3rd in Mason City at Southbridge Mall. Find more information here.