How Mental Health and Suicide Stigma Impacts Iowans

April 12, 2022

animation of a boy sitting on the ground and thinking

Experiencing suicidal thoughts or hearing a friend or loved one express suicidal ideation is frightening. Not taking these thoughts seriously or failure to seek help can have devastating outcomes, which is why it is of the utmost importance to seek help.

Concerningly, suicide is becoming a rising cause of death among Iowans. Many may not realize this issue exists in Iowa's local communities, and it may be more common than we think. The Iowa Department of Public Health has yearly statistics on Iowa suicide data from 2000 to 2020, and the statewide suicide rate has been steadily rising over the years. Some of the most notable things we can gather from this information include:

  • Deaths involving suicide completion peaked in 2020, with 536 suicide deaths.
  • Teenagers account for 3-5% of the total suicide deaths in the state of Iowa.
  • The suicide rate among teens is even higher in Polk County compared to Iowa as a whole, and peaked in 2015 when 10% of teen suicides for that year took place in Polk.

UCS Healthcare’s goal is to educate others about the impact suicide has on our local communities to bring awareness to the topic and support those facing suicidal thoughts. Our team is a leading provider in mental health counseling, addiction treatments and more specialized services, and our team members are trained in suicide prevention best practices. We hope to work towards suicide and harm prevention by learning how to spot the signs of suicidal thoughts or ideation and assisting the people struggling by finding ways to support them and create plans to help them when they are feeling suicidal.

If you or someone you know needs immediate care, please refer to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, or call a local Mobile Crisis unit:

  • Polk County Mobile Crisis: 515-283-4811
  • Central Iowa Mobile Crisis: 1-855-581-8111
  • Statewide: Call 911 and ask for the nearest Mobile Crisis Unit

Mental Disorders With Suicidal Thoughts

Mental illnesses including depression and psychosis are connected with an increased risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts. Although substance use is not a mental illness, it is a type of disorder that can also be linked to increased suicidal thoughts. Suicide research has found that 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI.

Depression and Suicidal Risk

It can be difficult to diagnose the severity of depression, but symptoms can include sadness, emptiness and hopelessness. People diagnosed with depression may experience frequent or recurring thoughts of death or suicide. These feelings can lead someone who is depressed into isolation, making it harder for loved ones to notice the tell-tale signs of a potential suicide risk.

Those who experience severe symptoms of depression and suicide ideation may noticeably struggle with day-to-day activities such as school, social opportunities, relationships and work.

Mental and Personality Disorders Can Affect Suicide

Although depression is one of the most common mental disorders associated with suicide, individuals with other mental illnesses and/or personality disorders can also have a higher risk of suicide.

When daily tasks are a difficult undertaking and require more focus and effort to complete, this takes a toll on one’s mental health. For example, individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) often feel the need to perform repetitive rituals. These rituals can consume daily tasks and can be extremely frustrating to those living with OCD. It is not uncommon for thoughts or attempts of suicide to occur in order to end the mental suffering.

Additionally, a mental health disorder diagnosis may lead to negative thoughts if the person believes this label will change them. Individuals can think negatively of their self-image and become fearful of what others might think of them since they are diagnosed with a mental illness. This negative self talk and anxiety can lead to dark thoughts and suicide attempts.

If you notice signs of depression or suicidal thoughts among friends or family it is vital to reach out for help.

How Addiction and Mental Health Correlate to Suicidal Behavior

Individuals that have suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts are more likely to have a mental health or substance use disorder. In some cases, they may suffer from a co-occurring disorder where they have both a mental illness and a substance use disorder. Both types of disorders, alone and co-occurring, can lead an individual to fall further into their addictive habits and negative thoughts. When this happens, risk or thoughts of suicide can spike.

When it comes to substance use disorders, heavy consumption of drugs and/or alcohol can lead to depressive or anxious behaviors since alcohol and many other substances are depressants. In addition to being depressed, individuals struggling with addiction and mental illness are also likely to make impulsive decisions that affect their social and financial livelihoods and can induce continued negative feelings.

People living with mental health disorders can struggle with the stigma associated with their mental illness which affects their self-confidence in certain social situations. To cope with these feelings of inadequacy, those individuals may turn to alcohol or drugs as an escape from their problems.

Fighting The Negative Association With Mental Health and Suicide Stigmas

Oftentimes, people with mental health diagnosis have worry-related thoughts about what others may think of them. These individuals already struggle with the lack of control of their disease, and when they can not control what others understand about mental illness, it causes heightened anxiety and negative thoughts. The stigma associated with mental illnesses can make those individuals feel misunderstood or uncomfortable in certain situations.

Mental health and suicidal thoughts do not just affect those who outward struggle. Often times individuals who seem to “have it all together” and describe themselves as perfectionists are overlooked when it comes to having suicidal ideations. When these individuals complete suicide, statements including, “We had no idea” and “They had everything to live for” can be heard from friends, family and acquaintances. Recent stories in the media have had a huge impact on mental health and suicide stigma including the death of former Miss USA Chelsie Kryst and 12-year-old Drayke Hardman. Harry Miller, an offensive lineman for Ohio State and an engineering student with a 4.0, medically retired from the sport after informing his coach he had a plan to complete suicide. It was important to him to speak publicly about his struggle in hopes it would raise awareness surrounding suicide stigma and save a life.

We want to help fight against mental health and suicide stigmas, which is why we offer comprehensive physical and behavioral health care services that include a holistic, mind and body, approach. UCS Healthcare does not discriminate against people with mental health issues. We welcome patients from all walks of life and backgrounds. Our team specializes in treating persons with mental health disorders, substance use disorders and more.

Mental Health And Suicide Prevention Plans

UCS believes mental health is an important element that contributes to one’s overall health. When we put together treatment plans, our team takes a total health approach, meaning we want to treat all health needs that make individuals feel like they’re working towards their best self. Not only does UCS specialize in some of the types of disorders that lead to suicidal thoughts, our team has recently enrolled in more training to recognize suicide warning signs.


employee stat of wanting more training on suicide prevention.


65% of UCS Healthcare employees said they wanted more training on suicide prevention. We take our patients’ care seriously, so UCS staff has completed specialized training to aid patients, co-workers and others suffering from suicidal thoughts or ideations. We are prioritizing this additional training because it allows us to better understand our patients’ needs and serve more by providing essential assistance and prevention plans. As we go through the courses from Zero Suicide Institute we are adding the tactics to our already unique approach.

Our Process For Suicide Prevention Plans

  1. During an initial meeting with a patient, our staff fills out a Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ9) that includes questions about the patient’s current mental state, isolation and withdrawal and if they are experiencing thoughts of self-harm and suicide ideation.
  2. If the patient answers ‘yes’ to experiencing thoughts of self-harm and suicide, our staff member will start a Safe Plan and dive deeper into discovery. A Safe Plan includes identifying a person or persons the patient feels safe with, coping mechanisms for dark thoughts, and identifying triggers that may lead to suicidal thoughts.
  3. If it determined that the patient has a plan to complete suicide, our staff member will alert the local Mobile Crisis Unit. Depending on the severity of the situation, the patient may be taken to a nearby hospital to be observed and stay overnight.

UCS Healthcare's method is centered around harm reduction. Together with our experienced mental health experts, our patients are encouraged to reach out to loved ones, open up about their thoughts and feelings and self-identify why their life is worth living. During this plan development, patients can later access help and support when having dark thoughts.

UCS Healthcare is Here For You - Reach Out For Mental Health & Suicidal Thoughts Treatment

If you or someone you know if struggling with suicide ideation or suicidal thoughts, please refer to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. For local assistance call Polk County Mobile Crisis 515-283-4811.

UCS Healthcare is a non-biased and open-minded health care organization that is trained in how to identify if our patients are having suicidal thoughts and how to help them create a plan to prevent suicide. In addition, we provide primary health care, substance use disorder treatments, mental health therapy, psychiatric care and more. Learn more and contact our staff with questions regarding our suicide prevention methods or other therapy options.