DES MOINES — This Sunday is World Suicide Prevention Day and Iowa health officials are working to raise awareness about the free, confidential, round-the-clock help that’s available through the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Julie Maas, Iowa’s 988 project director, says they’re focusing not just on the state’s larger cities, but also remote areas.

“Iowa is a very rural state and we know that farmers are one of our vulnerable populations for mental health struggles,” Maas says, “and rural suicide deaths are two times higher than our city and metro areas.”

The Lifeline was launched in July of last year and has since had contacts with more than 40,000 people across Iowa, most of them through phone calls but some via text or chat.

“The majority of them have been resolved by the trained 998 counselors,” Maas says, “and only 2% of contacts have required additional intervention of either an active rescue or a mobile response.”

Suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Iowa, but it’s number-two for those between the ages of ten and 35. Roughly one in five people who reach out to the Lifeline in Iowa are considering taking their own lives. The rest may be experiencing some sort of crisis, which can range from having a car that won’t start to being diagnosed with cancer.

“About 20% of the contacts are related to suicide, and it could either be suicidal thoughts or somebody who is concerned about their loved one,” Maas says. “So it doesn’t need to be just the individual who themselves are experiencing the struggle, it could be a loved one who’s concerned about a friend, a colleague or a family member — 988 is really for anyone who is looking for assistance.”

A report released in May from Trust for America’s Health shows 549 Iowans died by suicide in 2021, which is a drop of three-percent from the year before.