Staff Columnist

We must talk about suicide

For Iowans between the ages of 15 and 34, suicide is second-leading cause of death

A Foundation 2 volunteer practices crisis line phone techniques in this file photo from 1990. Iowans experiencing crisis can text or call 1-800-332-4224 to be connected to someone at Foundation 2 who can help. Your Life Iowa also offers support by phone, 1-855-581-8111, or by text, 1-855-895-TEXT (8398). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available around the clock at 1-800-273-8255. (Gazette Archives)
A Foundation 2 volunteer practices crisis line phone techniques in this file photo from 1990. Iowans experiencing crisis can text or call 1-800-332-4224 to be connected to someone at Foundation 2 who can help. Your Life Iowa also offers support by phone, 1-855-581-8111, or by text, 1-855-895-TEXT (8398). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available around the clock at 1-800-273-8255. (Gazette Archives)

On Monday we learned a third person connected to a mass shooting took his own life.

Jeremy Richman, a 49-year-old neuroscientist and father of Newtown, Conn., shooting victim Avielle Richman, took his own life in the town hall offices of the nonprofit he co-founded to research violence and named for his daughter, the Avielle Foundation. His death closely followed those of two survivors of the 2018 Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

Also gone are former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School cheerleader and recent graduate Sydney Aiello, 19, who lost her best friend in the rampage, and an unidentified sophomore at the school. (Author’s note: After this column was filed, the family of Calvin Desir identified him as the second Parkland shooting survivor to die by suicide. He was 16 and his sister said he hoped to become an engineer.)

While there is plenty to be written about the trauma of mass shootings and this nation’s apparent inability to squelch them, suicide isn’t only limited to those experiencing survivor’s guilt or post-traumatic stress disorder.

In February, the state Board of Regents learned college students are reporting escalating incidents of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Two years ago, 1.4 percent of University of Iowa students attempted to take their own lives. Now it is 4 percent.

Faced with a new rash of escalating farmer suicides, Congress authorized a new national hotline in the 2008 farm bill, but then neglected to fund it. The situation worsened — worse than what the nation experienced during the peak of the farm crisis — which prompted lawmakers to include $50 million in the latest farm bill for rural mental health services.

And, according to youth surveys conducted by the Iowa Department of Public Health, incidents of young people (middle and high school students) with a plan to end their own lives increased by 53 percent from 2012 to 2018. According to federal statistics released last summer, Iowa’s suicide rate increased more than 35 percent in a 17-year period. Suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death in Linn County.

Factors that can contribute to death by suicide are as varied as those who ultimately take their own lives — traumatic stress, relationship loss or problems, substance abuse, physical and mental health decline, employment loss, housing concerns, isolation and financial woes.

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Even with such a broad spectrum, statistics released by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention about the Hawkeye State are shocking. Those include such horrors as one person in Iowa dying by suicide every 20 hours, nearly half doing so with a firearm. Iowans are six times more likely to take their own life than to die by homicide.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Iowans between the ages of 15 and 34.

Clearly, suicide is an issue we should be openly addressing. But we aren’t. We don’t know what to say to those who survive suicide attempts, much less to those who have faced such a loss. And, let’s be honest, we are frightened by it — because we don’t understand it and are uncomfortable discussing it.

We’re caught in a vicious circle that’s only going to get more intense in the coming days and weeks as national headlines turn to the latest round of untimely deaths.

Maybe we should start talking.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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