Gov. Sean Parnell recently issued an executive proclamation naming this week Suicide Prevention Week, with the intent of drawing more attention to an issue that plagues Alaska.
Indeed, suicide ranks as one of the top 10 causes of death in Alaska, and the suicide rate here remains twice the national average — a number the governor described as “epidemic.” The rate is highest among young Alaskans, ages 15 to 24, and is the second-leading cause of death among Alaskans ages 10-24.
According to a report released by the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council last January, the age-adjusted suicide rate for Southcentral Alaska 16.7 per 100,000 residents.
But the issue of suicide is about much more than numbers, it is about people and our community. Most people, even the youngest in our community, know somebody who has dealt with depression or attempted suicide. It affects people regardless of ethnic background or age or social status or income bracket.
Gina Savchuk, a state representative with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, runs what she calls a “warm line” and is often a first point of contact for people feeling suicidal. She said suicide can be a complex issue with many different triggers, and defining the best course for treatment can be just as difficult.
The most important thing to remember, Savchuck said, is “that there’s always hope. There’s always someone out there who’s going to miss you.”
In his proclamation, the governor encourages “all Alaskans to speak up about suicide and reach out to those who may be struggling, reaffirm their commitment to life, their community and family, and visit StopSuicideAlaska.org for important information and resources.”
Among the resources available is the Alaska care line, 1-877-266-HELP.
Peninsula Community Health Services staffs a 24-hour emergency hotline through its Cottonwood Health Center at 907-283-7511.
And Savchuck said she frequently talks with people from around the state on her warm line, 907-260-5646.
While this week has been designated as suicide prevention week, reaching out to help those in need is something that needs to continue throughout the year.
Parnell in his proclamation states that “as we continue to battle our state’s epidemic rate of suicide, we must never lose hope and always remember that every Alaskan life is precious.”
It’s a message worth repeating, not just this week, but every week: If you know someone who is struggling, reach out. There are resources available, and people who want to help.
In short: While the designation of Suicide Prevention Week is intended to raise awareness about the epidemic here in Alaska, reaching out and connecting those in need with available help is a year-round, community-wide effort.