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County officials aim to raise suicide awareness

BY DANIEL SEIDL | AUGUST 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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While suicide has been a leading cause of death in the state of Iowa for a number of years, Johnson County officials are moving forward with motions to take further action against the public-health concern.

During a Thursday morning meeting, the Board of Supervisors declared the week of Sept. 8 to Sept. 14 as National Suicide Prevention Week in Johnson County.

In the announcement of the proclamation, Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said suicide is the 12th-leading cause of all deaths in the state and the second leading of death in people ages 15 to 24.

The issue of suicide, Rettig said, signifies not just a public-health problem in need of addressing but also one of personal effect.

Rettig’s grandfather committed suicide before she was born, she said.

And for the years following, her family continued to struggle with the matter.

“It was something nobody talked about for fear it would upset somebody,” she said. “It was such a secret that I thought they were trying to hide it from me, from my generation.”

Rettig noted that no one program will be appropriate across the board in aiding suicide prevention and awareness efforts for all populations and communities.

In outlining of the proclamation, she noted that further encouragement is necessary to promote awareness and support community-based prevention programs and support services.

Necessary moves to be taken include improved reporting and portrayals of suicidal behavior, mental illness and substance abuse in the entertainment and news media as well as reducing access to lethal means and methods for self-harm, she said.

According to information provided by the Johnson County medical examiner, suicide was the third-highest cause of death in Johnson County in 2012.

The problem of suicide stands beyond statewide boundaries.

Suicide is the 10th-highest cause of death nationwide, according to most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s National Vital Statistics Report in 2011.

While suicide accounts for such a large portion of deaths, Keri Neblett, the community intervention director at the Johnson County Crisis Center, maintains it still isn’t talked about as much as it should be.

“Suicide is a very preventable cause of death … but yet so little is known about suicide because everyone is so scared to talk about it.” she said, noting that it often takes an average of 36 months for loved ones of those who commit suicide to seek help.

And while the Crisis Center has participated in National Suicide Prevention Week for the past five years, 2013 will include much larger events than in previous years.

A speech from Jordan Burnham, a suicide survivor turned motivational speaker and mental-health advocate is among those scheduled.

He will speak at a free public event at the University of Iowa’s Medical Education & Research Facility at 7 p.m. Sept. 10.

“He felt like he had to wear a mask … pressure just built up so he couldn’t take it anymore,” Neblett said about Burnham’s high school struggles. 

To commemorate the week’s events, Out of the Darkness, a fundraising walk at Lower City Park’s Shelter No. 5, is scheduled for Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. 

The walk will help in aiding awareness and suicide-prevention efforts.

But despite the efforts, Supervisor Rod Sullivan said suicide is no different from other tragedies.

“Realistically, it’s no different than having a family member be hit by a car,” he said.


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