When a number becomes a lifeline
988. Now say it again. And again.
That’s what Barb Anderson hopes everyone does – memorize 988. That’s because it’s the number to the national suicide prevention line. Anderson, a consultant with the Iowa Department of Education, says this will help all Iowans, including Iowa’s youth.
“988 is a great resource and schools can help students and staff increase awareness of its availability,” she said. “We know that so many students face emotional distress and need this kind of support.”
The number of Iowa students who face emotional crises is breathtaking. Consider:
- According to the 2021 Iowa Youth Survey, between 27 percent and 36 percent of students, depending on the grade, reported they had felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row. The percentage was highest for 11th graders at 36 percent, followed by 29 percent for eighth graders, and 27 percent for 6th graders.
- Almost one in four 11th grade students reported they had thoughts about killing themselves in the last 12 months. Non-white students reported higher rates of suicidal ideation with the highest rate at 31 percent.
- Approximately half of the students who had thoughts about killing themselves had made a plan.
“We know that the pandemic has profoundly affected the mental well being of learners,” Anderson said.
The 988 suicide and crisis lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the United States. Iowans who call 988 will be able to talk with trained Iowa crisis counselors. When needed, the counselors will also be able to coordinate with other community-based crisis services throughout the state.
Emotional well being is a critical component to ensuring students have full access to learning. The percent of students in Iowa facing emotional challenges underscores the importance of having tools to address them.
“The reasons for mental health challenges are complex, but we know through the pandemic that social isolation has created many problems,” Anderson said. “And social media is both a blessing and a curse. It allows youth to connect with one another but the downside is it may also expose youth to bullying and unrealistic views of other’s lives.
“Social media also underscores how students tend to compare themselves to one another. This can lead to their self perception being exaggeratedly negative.”
So think 988.
“Schools can partner in increasing knowledge of 988, and help their students and raise awareness that help is out there,” Anderson said. “It improves access to help, and it reminds us that help is available.”