Several walks are planned across Iowa in the coming weeks to raise awareness about the second leading cause of death for Iowans between the ages of 15 and 40. Dale Chell with the Iowa Department of Public Health says 356 Iowans committed suicide last year. He says the “Out of the Darkness” walks are important to family and friends who’ve lost someone to suicide.

“It also helps people understand that suicide is preventable and there are things that can be done to help prevent the death of someone by suicide,” Chell said. The walks also help raise funds nationally for research and locally for suicide prevention efforts. Chell says there are signs that might signal a person is contemplating suicide. They can range from obvious statements like “I’m going to kill myself” to a loss of energy or interest in activities.

“One of the other behaviors is when people give away possessions,” Chell said. “They seem to be putting their affairs in order. That may be another warning sign.” The walks, which are held across the nation, are called Out of the Darkness. Chell says it’s important to talk about suicide since most people are caught off guard when a friend or family member takes their own life.

“There’s an incredible amount of stigma – just with talking about mental illness and depression – but also with talking about suicide,” Chell said. “People often keep it a secret and plan in advance, so sometimes for the family members it appears there have been no warnings.”

Three suicide awareness and prevention walks were held earlier this summer in Iowa City, Fort Dodge and Dunkerton. Four more walks are scheduled for September 19 in Ankeny, September 26 in the northwest Iowa town of Royal, October 2 in Mason City and October 10 in Cedar Rapids. This week is recognized nationally as “Suicide Prevention Week.”

Find out more about the walks here: Out of the Darkness.