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Shatter the stigma one life at a time

Posted: January 20, 2012 - 9:21am

The desire to live, thrive and prosper is something many of us take for granted each day.

However, a significant portion of our society isn’t as fortunate — depression and suicidal thoughts consume and force many residents of the Peninsula and our state into isolation, increase the risk of substance abuse and other reckless behavior, perhaps ultimately ending in the loss of a precious life.

Alaska has one of the highest suicide rates per capita in the country. Yet there seems to be a significant stigma in our communities about the issue.

For some reason we find it difficult to talk about suicide. Sometimes we would rather sweep the issue into the closet and forget about it. Sometimes it is easier to fault someone for considering it instead of summoning the moral strength to reach out as an individual and community to help.

All of these things create the stigma surrounding suicide.
That’s infuriating.

It is time for our community, which in so many other aspects of health and well-being succeeds despite challenges, to step up and take control of this haunting issue.

The rate of suicide in the United States was 11.5 suicides per 100,000 people in 2007. In 2007, Alaska’s rate was 21.8 suicides per 100,000 people. The rate of suicide among Alaska Native peoples was 35.1 per 100,000 people in the same year.

The suicide rate is highest among young Alaskans aged 15 to 24 and is the second-leading cause of death among ages 10 to 24.

The first goal — and one that may be the biggest — in a recently released plan designed to combat suicide is acceptance of the responsibility to prevent suicide.

This starts at an individual level. Yes, that means even you.

Take the time to read up on warning signs because 70 percent of people who commit suicide tell someone about their plans, according to stopasuicide.org. For more information on signs of suicide, visit http://www.stopasuicide.org/signs.aspx.

More than reading up on typical pre-suicide signals, we should make it a priority to show compassion and really listen to those in our lives and especially those who are struggling. Depression and suicidal individuals don’t always show outwards signs of their inner conflict.

Sometimes it is hard to know what to say or do around someone who brings up or hints at their suicidal thoughts.

Here is what not to do:

* Don’t try to cheer the person up or tell them to “snap out of it.”
* Don’t assume the situation will take care of itself.
* Don’t be sworn to secrecy.
* Don’t argue or debate moral issues.

Instead, listen willingly, take the issue seriously, voice concern, let the person know you care about their well-being and that you understand. Get professional help immediately — if the person seems unwilling to accept help, call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, for resources and advice.

If the person is willing, bring him or her with you to an emergency center or mental health center and contact a primary care physician or mental health provider.

Start the conversation about suicide and break this stigma. Ask others how they are doing, really. Care, understand and really listen — you just might have a chance to save a life.

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