Kirkwood student group plants flags for suicide awareness

Event takes place during Mental Health Awareness Week

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That’s the approximate number of college students who die by suicide each year, according to Active Minds, a national student mental health advocacy group with a chapter at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.

On Tuesday, members of the Kirkwood chapter planted 1,100 white flags on campus near Iowa Hall to draw attention to what the organization says is the second leading cause of death among college students.

“We’re just promoting suicide prevention awareness,” said Angie Ziesman Weiler, a counselor at Kirkwood and faculty adviser for the Active Minds chapter. She said the flags are a visual display of how prevalent depression and suicide are on college campuses across the country.

“We want to help people understand (mental health) and help raise awareness because it is something that is preventable,” said Luke Frahm, an Active Minds member and computer science student at Kirkwood.

Tuesday’s flag planting coincided with Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place every year during the first full week of October.

Among the groups working to increase awareness are Foundation 2 and the Crisis Center of Johnson County. Both organizations offer suicide prevention and other mental health services throughout the Corridor.

“Every week is Mental Health Awareness Week for us,” said Deb Peddycoart, quality director at Foundation 2, 1714 Johnson Ave. NW in Cedar Rapids.

Peddycoart said Foundation 2’s mobile crisis unit — through which professional counselors can call on families or individuals in crisis 24 hours a day — was dispatched 108 times in September, about three times the monthly average.

Peddycoart said Foundation 2 officials also answered more than 2,500 calls on the organization’s crisis line in September.

Timothy Kelly, coordinator for the Mobile Crisis Outreach Program at the Johnson County Crisis Center, 1121 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City, said it’s mobile crisis unit was deployed 52 times in September, breaking a previous record of 35 times during a single month.

“I don’t know what all that is to be attributed to, but it may be an increase in people aware of us,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the Crisis Center is expanding its services by offering two support groups for members of the community. One group aims to support suicide attempt survivors and the other, called Hearing Voices, is to support individuals with any kind of psychosis. Both groups are based on successful national models, Kelly said.

The public is asked to offer its input on the support groups by attending one of the following meetings at 1105 S. Gilbert Court, Iowa City:

— Attempted Suicide Survivors, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11

— Hearing Voices — 4 p.m., Monday, Oct. 17

For more information on the Crisis Center of Johnson County and its services, visit

For information on Foundation 2, visit the website at

Back on the Kirkwood campus, Ziesman Weiler said reaction to Tuesday’s flag planting — which included an opportunity for students to speak with Active Minds members about depression and suicide — was mixed. Some shied away, while others opened up about their struggles, she said.

Overall, Frahm said he believes the flags raised awareness.

“Everyone seems to have a rather positive reaction, somewhat in a shocked way that they didn’t realize that 1,100 people died each year,” he said

Mental Health Awareness Week continues at Kirkwood on Thursday, which is National Depression Screening Day. Free depression screenings for students are offered from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 125 Iowa Hall. The anonymous screenings take five to 10 minutes and counselors are to be available to discuss results.

Active Minds members hope these events not only raise awareness, but help eliminate any negative stigmas related to mental health, Ziesman Weiler said.

Here are 24-hour crisis lines for area suicide prevention organizations:

— The Crisis Center of Johnson County — (319) 351-0140

— Foundation 2 — (319) 362-2174 or 1-800-332-4224

— Linn County Suicide Prevention Coalition — (319) 362-2174

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