Mental health experts raise awareness during National Suicide Prevention Week

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 11:15 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - People who work in mental health fields understand how serious the pandemic has been for people.

This week, Sunday, September 5 to Saturday, September 11, is National Suicide Prevention Week. It’s a chance to look inside the issue, and what can be done. But experts also stress this isn’t just something to watch for this week, but every week.

“Suicide is a massive public health crisis in the United States. For far too long it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserved,” Drew Martel, Foundation 2 Crisis Services director, said.

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Crisis teams at several groups across eastern Iowa say this is an important time to put a light on suicide prevention and awareness, as the pandemic has had a heavy toll on many people’s mental health.

“If you know someone who is struggling, it has been a terribly distressing last two years. Please reach out to them and let them know you care, listen to them and support them and getting help,” Martel said.

Foundation 2, in the Cedar Rapids area, says it saw a 41% increase in crisis calls from 2019 to 2021. It’s on track to hit a record number of calls this year, with around 50,000 already. Martel said they’re seeing trends with families and students trying to cope with transition periods with school as the pandemic presents challenges. It’s working on several programs, one partnering with the Cedar Rapids Community School district and one with Grant Wood AEA to help students have better access to crisis counselors.

Foundation 2 is hosting several events related to National Suicide Prevention Week. More details can be found here.

CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank, based in Iowa City, also saw an increase in people reaching out for help, particularly through call lines, at the start of the pandemic.

Crisis Intervention Manager Ryan Dickson says the pandemic has opened up more of these needed conversations about mental health, particularly for frontline workers.

“Because there’s a phenomenon that happens: it’s called secondary trauma. Maybe in other professions, you might call it burnout. But we start to take on some of the things that we are helping people with,” Dickson said.

At the start of the pandemic, CommUnity’s Disaster Distress Helpline says it went from getting 60 chats a month, to 60 chats a day. 18 months later, staffers there say the impact is still being felt.

“People are still dealing with loss of income, isolation, disruption of routine, all of the things that in any other circumstance would exacerbate mental health issues our now daily features of life,” Dickson said.

They say talking about suicide and mental health helps remove any stigma, and can encourage people to reach out for help.

“Suicide is an entirely preventable tragedy, so getting it out in the open being frank about it, educating people makes it where we can save lives,” Dickson said.

CommUnity Crisis Services is holding a Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop this weekend, according to a Facebook post on their page.

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Posted by CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank on Wednesday, September 8, 2021

For anyone having feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of suicide, there is always help. Foundation 2 has a crisis line at 319-362-2174.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK. The Crisis Center of Johnson County, Iowa is 1-319-351-0140.

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