Study showing rise in suicide rates could be particular worry for Iowa

IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa researcher says he’s troubled by a new federal report which finds the nation’s suicide rate has reached its highest level since 1941, with nearly 50,000 taking their own lives last year.

Professor Jonathan Platt, a UI social epidemiologist, studies changes in the population patterns of mental illness and suicide. Platt says certain findings in the CDC report are especially worrying.

“The trends in recent years have indicated that suicide rates are increasing more in rural areas than urban areas,” Platt says, “so the implications of that for the state of Iowa I think are concerning.”

The federal report shows suicide deaths are rising among older adults, especially those over 70, and Platt offers some insights into why that demographic may be more at risk.

“People point to social isolation, which I think may be particularly important to think about for older adults,” Platt says. “As you know, as individuals age, they just spend more time isolated from others. Their social networks decrease and also there’s an increasing risk of chronic disease and chronic health conditions.”

While suicide rates had been sharply rising in young people in recent years, this latest report indicates those numbers are starting to level off, which Platt says would be encouraging news. Experts are studying the recent rise in youth suicide rates, and Platt says many theories point to a single culprit.

“When you look at the trends in social media use, of course, you see this exponential growth and in the prevalence of youth and the amount of time spent on social media also in the 21st century,” Platt says, “so I think there’s some plausibility there. A lot more research is needed to understand what types of experiences online people are having that might increase their risk for suicide.”

Free, confidential, round-the-clock help is available through the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a resource Platt says holds promise for helping to reduce the numbers.

report released earlier this year 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.