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State focusing on mental health and suicide prevention for children

The Iowa Departments of Public Health and Human Services are urging Iowans to prioritize their mental health, and released two ad campaigns geared at helping youth.

DES MOINES, Iowa — If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call (855) 581-8111 or text (855) 895-8398.

Mental health and suicide prevention for children are top of mind for the Iowa Departments of Public Health and Human Services.

Those departments recently rolled out a new ad campaign to address those topics after seeing an increase of younger children in crisis. 

One of the campaigns is called There Are People Who Care. It urges children who are struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm to reach out or seek help from someone. 

The second one is titled Say Something About Suicide, and is geared towards adults to say something if they notice a younger person in their life is struggling. 

In a statement, IDPH and IDHS said in part the messaging campaigns are "urging Iowans to prioritize their mental health. After the last two years of pandemic living, many people are realizing that stress, isolation, and uncertainty have taken a toll on their well-being."

According to CDC study, nearly 44.2% of students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the pandemic, with 19.9% of students considering suicide.

Esha Bolar, a student at Johnston High School and a peer leader in a group called Sources of Strength, said the campaigns the state put out during Mental Health Awareness Month are needed.

"I think it's great they're putting more importance on it, I think it's a good step in trying to destigmatize all of the mental health."

Sources of Strength is a mental health awareness and suicide prevention program. 

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Chris Wilson, the student well-being coordinator over that program at Johnston High School, said the program started at the school in 2016 as a mental health initiative. 

"It trains peer leaders to act as a support and encouragement for other students in their school to make choices that lead to healthy well being and then training knowing how to connect their peers with an adult who can help," Wilson said.

The group took a pause in 2020 because of the pandemic, but is now coming back to make sure students at the high school are making their mental health a priority. 

"When you're hurt you take time to heal, but when you're not doing well mentally the same kind of importance isn't given to that a lot of the time," Bolar said. "And we're trying to get students to prioritize that."

Both ad campaigns released by the state will run on broadcast and streaming services as well as social media sites. The ad targeted for children will run on social media sites like TikTok and Snapchat, while the ad geared towards adults will run on social media sites that have an older demographic.

More information about mental health can be found here.

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