With summer winding down, we look ahead to a new school year, Potlatch season and silver fishing. Across our region, crisp weather, clear skies and autumn foliage invite us to get outside and enjoy the best Alaska’s “shoulder season” has to offer.
September is also National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), America faces an unprecedented suicide epidemic, with a rate in 2017 that was 33% higher than in 1999. A suicide occurs in the U.S. roughly once every 12 minutes, and suicides now claim two-and-a-half times as many lives as homicides.
The statistics are even more grim in Alaska, which has the second-highest suicide rate in the nation per capita. The CDC reports that Alaska Native/ American Indian (AN/AI) people have the highest rates of suicide—nearly four times the national average—of any racial/ethnic group in the U.S. Complex, interrelated factors contribute to high rates of suicide among AN/AI people, including alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, the loss of culture, economic deprivation and a lack of access to mental health services.
Like many illnesses, there is no single cause to suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed the coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition. These include:
- Mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse problems;
- Prolonged stress, such as harassment, bullying or unemployment;
- Stressful life events, such as divorce or the death of a loved one;
- Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma; and
- A prior suicide attempt or family history of suicide.
Suicide is a serious public health problem, and despite best efforts, some suicides will always occur. Survivors of suicide attempts often say they concealed their plans and made efforts to not offer warnings; the decision to take one’s own life might be made just minutes or hours before the act. And even when there are signs, sometimes intervention can’t save a person’s life.
However, many people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs. These include:
- Talk of wanting to kill themselves, feeling hopeless or having no reason to live;
- Behaviors such as increased drug or alcohol use, changes in sleep habits, withdrawing from family and friends or giving away prized possessions; and
- Moods such as depression, anxiety, agitation/anger or a sudden improvement in mood/calmness
Suicide Prevention Awareness Month gives us an opportunity to talk about this highly taboo and stigmatized topic. Ignoring a problem is never the solution; we must talk openly about the disproportionate rates of suicide among our people and work together to find solutions.
If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).
If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can text the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.
Southcentral Foundation’s Denaa Yeets’ provides services to AN/ AI adults at risk for suicide or who have experienced the death of a loved one from suicide. The program is staffed with behavioral health case managers who connect customer-owners to different services, including medication management, therapy, financial aid, housing and job-search assistance. For information, call (907) 729-5260 / (800) 478-3343.
While suicide prevention is important to address year-round, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month provides a dedicated time to come together with collective passion and strength around a difficult topic.