WAUKEE, Iowa — The Waukee community is mourning a well-known high school student and football player after he took his own life.
Drew Lienemann, 18, attempted suicide over the weekend. He passed away on Monday.
Suicide is the ninth-leading cause of death for people of all ages in Iowa, but it’s rarely a topic of discussion. The Lienemann family wants to change that.
Dan and Wanda Lienemann spoke publicly Wednesday in hopes the tragic loss of their son can be used to help other troubled teenagers.
Dan Lienemann read his son’s words aloud that were written in a prayer book shortly before he attempted suicide: “What can I learn through my loneliness? Am I to find fellowship, with others or remain alone?”
Sasha Khosravi, a doctor of behavioral health at Mercy Medical Center, said suicide is an alarming trend.
“You feel isolated, you feel alone, you feel like no one can relate to you and you already feel like a burden when you are in that state of emotions. And unfortunately, you don’t reach out for help.”
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Iowans ages 15 to 34.
“We want to encourage anyone struggling with suicide to reach out for help immediately,” Dan Lienemann said.
Khosravi says getting help is easier said than done.
“I think it makes people uncomfortable. There’s still an associated stigma with identifying it as a sign of weakness,” he said.
There were 447 suicide deaths in Iowa in 2015, which are 128 more than the Iowa Department of Transportation’s fatality count on Iowa roads from the same year. Those numbers, coupled with the closing of two state mental hospitals, are leading some to think suicide is not getting the attention it deserves.
“In the general, big scheme of things, we are very far off from where we need to be. And we need that support, not only from a financial perspective, but a legislative perspective,” Khosravi said.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, one person dies by suicide every 20 hours in Iowa.
Wanda Lienemann, Drew’s mother, said a number of people have come up to her and Dan, telling stories of Drew and how he helped people.
“He talked her out of suicide, encouraged her, walked alongside her,” Wanda said of a friend of Drew’s who talked to him about her suicidal thoughts.
Drew Lienemann will continue to live on through organ donation, something his parents say is just like Drew.
“He truly did serve other people. It does bring comfort to some degree to know that he’s still serving other people through the gifts he is providing through his organs,” Dan Lienemann said.
His mom says that although they are proud to talk about the good that is coming from Drew’s donations, it does not take away from the fact that their son is gone.
“We do not want to glamorize what has happened at all,” Wanda Lienemann said. “Knowing Drew and all that he could have provided would have been incredible. I can’t even imagine how many more lives he could have touched.”
The Lienemanns hope others can avoid their tragedy through conversation.
“Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength,” Dan Lienemann said.
Today tragedy struck the Waukee community, our hearts and prayers go out to the friends and family of Drew Lienemann.
— VHS Student Section (@VHS_WuTang) January 11, 2016
The state launched a program in 2012 called Your Life Iowa that provides hotlines available through texting and calling as well as resources to anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts. Call 1-855-581-8111 24/7 or text 855-895-TEXT (8398) between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.
If you are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-8255