Steps should be taken to prevent suicide
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and people in Marshalltown are stressing the importance of such prevention.
Misty Smith, therapist and owner of Wild Spirit Counseling, said having a designated month is important to increase awareness, and let people who are struggling know they are not alone.
“Other people have thought about it, other people have tried it,” she said. “Other people have been able to overcome those thoughts. Other people have been able to beat the thoughts of suicide or they are not good enough.”
Smith estimates roughly 75 percent of people have thought of suicide at least once in their lives.
“Lots of people go through transitions in life, difficult transitions,” she said. “It’s never easy to hear they never got to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Taking steps to prevent the suicide will help. Since most of the time suicide is an impulsive decision, removing the means is a big factor in prevention.
“It’s really important to talk to the people who are struggling, and take the lethal weapons and make sure they are locked up in a safe,” Smith said. “Medications which are potentially deadly are locked in a box. If we are able to prevent quick access, we are usually able to prevent the impulsive suicide ideations.”
Paying attention to others can also be a useful prevention tool. Smith said just asking someone if they are OK or if they are suicidal is not going to be the factor that drives them to do it. In fact, the questions could let the person know they are thought of and cared about.
“If you do notice behaviors like shutting down, distancing themselves more, giving their stuff away, that would be the time to ask,” she said.
When someone is giving their stuff away that is the time to start asking those questions, Smith said. When those actions are being taken, they have decided to end their life, and have a plan in place. Whether or not the person tells the truth depends on where they are at, she said. If they want help, they will be truthful.
“It’s hard when someone gets to that point, and if they are seriously at that point, I don’t know if there is anything we can do,” Smith said. “For those who are survivors of people who have completed suicide, it’s important to remember you have done everything, that it doesn’t fall on you.”
Marshalltown Police Department Chief Mike Tupper said his officers regularly respond to situations in which suicide is a concern.
“It’s a big part of what we do, and part of the reason why we have MPACT,” he said.
MPACT (Marshalltown Police and Community Team) has been a huge asset in addressing those calls. It has helped lighten the burden of Marshalltown officers.
“MPACT is there to help us manage the issue, and make sure we are finding the appropriate help for people,” Tupper said. “MPACT has been a great bridge for the police department to offer our services to people and prevent things from spiraling out of control.”
When receiving a crisis call, the chief said officers ascertain how to best provide service. Sometimes, though, the determination can be challenging.
“It is complex,” Tupper said. “The middle of the night is a hard time to get appropriate service for mental health concerns. We have to get them to crisis services at the hospital for a mental health evaluation.”
Since opening the doors to Wild Spirit in October, Smith said they have had a few clients in crisis. Staff have stayed on the phone with clients until they were able to get to the emergency room.
“I’ve had a few where I’ve had to call the police to make sure they get to a safe place,” Smith said. “At least, on a monthly basis, we have one or two people who are in crisis. We have to create a safety plan or reach out to the ER for assessments so they can be safe.”
If a person is deemed to be at risk after the ER assessment, Smith said they are usually taken to a temporary mental health facility, then their medications are adjusted to help them stabilize.
When it comes to suicide prevention, Tupper stresses sharing resources, such as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which is posted on the Marshalltown Police Department Facebook page.
The history of the 988 number began in 2020, when there was a suicide every 11 minutes in the United States. Congress responded by designating the number in an effort to transform the crisis response system.
The number of calls has increased since its inception, and certainly in the last year. In July, there were 462,379 calls made to 988. In July 2022, there were 406,993.
The most recent suicide data from the Iowa Public Health website is from 2021, and dates back to 2000. The number of reported suicides in each county every year is listed. For Marshall County, there were nine recorded suicides in 2021, and eight in 2020. It was the 10th leading cause of death in the county in 2021 and the seventh leading cause in 2020.
Smith has heard there has been an increase. However, the increase could be connected to other conditions. She said there has also been an increase in diagnoses of depression and anxiety, which can also lead to suicidal thoughts. Severe depression, borderline personality and bipolar disorder are the primary mental conditions which lead to suicide, Smith added.
“We can get them to a place where we can help them recognize their symptoms and realize they are still an amazing person,” she said. “They are mood disorders, and medication can help them stabilize.”
Smith stressed the importance of letting people struggling with suicidal thoughts know they are important and seen. That might be a vital part in keeping someone alive.
“We need to do something to prevent it — help the person see what their purpose is, have a support team, make sure everything is put away,” Smith said. “It is preventable.”
Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or