State health officials are launching a suicide prevention plan which aims to reduce the number of self-inflicted deaths statewide 10 percent by the year 2018.
Pat McGovern, the state’s suicide prevention coordinator, says the plan has goals that include reducing the stigma or judgment of those who talk about mental health and suicide, as well as identifying ways to involve everyone in the state in the prevention process.
“All Iowans do have a role in suicide prevention,” McGovern says. “For many of us, it’s as simple as when you see someone acting a little different, a neighbor, a spouse, a classmate, a co-worker, just ask, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Is everything okay?’ That’s really all we’re asking for many of us.” If things with that person aren’t okay, take the next step and recommend they seek help and even offer to go along.
The state prevention plan outlines what various sectors of the community can do to contribute. “There will be specific targets or goals for education,” McGovern says. “What can our educators do to help or better identify the youth who may be suffering and who may be considering suicide in our schools? Something for the faith community, for government, for volunteers, parents.”
An average of about 400 people in Iowa have taken their own lives in each of the past three years. In 2013, the state health department says 445 Iowans died by suicide, the highest number in 25 years. Last year, the number dipped to 392. McGovern says the ultimate goal is zero deaths by suicide by increasing awareness of warning signs and offering better support and compassion for those who have survived suicide attempts and for loss survivors.
“We all have different roles that we can play in suicide prevention and this plan is just to try to help us better involve all of those different folks,” McGovern says. “Also, to help us at the state and community level do a better job of determining what have we done, what strides have we made, in what areas are we lagging and where we should focus more of our efforts.”
He recommends two sources, each with a hotline and a website: the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK and at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org, as well as Your Life Iowa at (855) 581-8111 and online at www.yourlifeiowa.org.