Prevent Suicide: Spread Awareness, Break the Stigma, Save a Life

September is National Suicide Prevention Month

August 31, 2023, 10:48 am | Dawn Dunnegan

two people holding hands by SewcreamStudio/, Iowa – Every year in September, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. This is also an opportunity to reduce the stigma that often surrounds the topic of suicide and mental health conditions, said Dawn Dunnegan, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Suicide rates were up 36% from 2000 to 2021 and suicide is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021, over 48,000 lives were lost to suicide. That is, on average, one individual every 11 minutes.

“For every one death by suicide, research tells us 275 other people have seriously considered suicide,” Dunnegan said.

Although males make up 50% of the population, they account for nearly 80% of all suicides. According to the CDC, people who are age 85 years or older have the highest suicide rates. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in people age 10-34.

What you can do to help prevent suicide

“Children and youth often struggle with how to cope with stress. Youth can be particularly overwhelmed when their stress is connected to a traumatic event — like a natural disaster, family loss, school shootings or community violence,” said Dunnegan, who specializes in family wellbeing.

Parents, caregivers and educators can take steps to provide stability and support that help young people feel better. Adults can try to maintain as much of a normal routine as possible.

“Listen to what your child is telling you about their stress and/or fears and watch and listen for changes in behavior. Reassure your child of their safety and know the resources in your community to reach out to,” Dunnegan said.

“Suicide is a preventable kind of death, and one person has the ability to step up and help save a life. Evidence shows that providing support services, reducing access to means of self-harm, talking with the individual about suicidal thoughts, feelings or plans, and following up with the individual we are concerned about can help save a life,” Dunnegan said.

Pledge to learn more and do more to help support your family members, friends or colleagues who may be thinking about suicide. Contact your ISU Extension and Outreach county office to sign up for a Mental Health First Aid training or a Question, Persuade, Refer, (QPR) suicide prevention training. These trainings can help you learn some of the warning signs of suicide such as talking about wanting to die or having no reason to live, fear of being a burden to others, giving away possessions, withdrawing from others, increased use of alcohol or drugs, talking about themselves in past tense and extreme mood swings.

ISU Extension and Outreach also has resources for dealing with stress on the farm, Dunnegan said.

More resources for suicide prevention

There are many national hotlines and messaging services if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide:

  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Call or text 988 for 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing mental health-related distress.
  • Veterans Crisis Line. Veterans and their loved ones can text 838-255 or dial 988 then press 1 for to get 24/7 confidential crisis support. Many of the responders are veterans themselves.
  • The Trevor Project. Text “Start” to 678-678, call 866-488-7386 or chat at Trained counselors are available 24/7 to support people under 25 who are in crisis, feeling suicidal or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk. The Trevor Project specializes in supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Call 800-662-4357 (HELP) or text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U) for free, confidential treatment referral and information for individuals and families in need. The helpline is available 24/7, 365-days-a-year and has English and Spanish language options.
  • Iowa Concern Hotline. Call 800-447-1985, to reach the ISU Extension and Outreach hotline. Resource services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week at no charge. Iowa Concern has access to an attorney for legal education, stress counselors, and information and referral services for a wide variety of topics.

Photo credit: SewcreamStudio/

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