The numbers are alarming — the suicide rate for Alaskans ages 15-24 was 46 per 100,000 people in 2010, well above the national average. And even with those numbers in mind, we’re startled by the response to this week’s Clarion poll question, which asks readers if they or somebody they know have ever contemplated suicide. More than 80 percent of respondents answered yes.
While our poll is not scientific, what it tells us is that suicide is an issue that, at some time or another, will affect nearly every member of our community.
Indeed, comments from high school counselors bear that out. During a recent training session, staff at Soldotna High School shared personal stories on the subject.
“We let the teachers discuss experiences in their lives; people who had either committed or talked about committing (suicide),” Erin Neisinger, Soldotna High School counselor, told the Clarion. “And walking around the room listening to the conversations, there were a lot stories about students or friends … who had affected their lives.”
The school district’s expanded training is the result of legislation passed last session requiring at least two hours of training for school personnel who work with middle- and high-school students. It includes an appropriation of $450,000 toward school-based suicide prevention efforts.
Sen. Bettye Davis, of Anchorage, who sponsored the legislation, said the bill would help reduce the “silent epidemic” of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs. According to Neisinger, people aren’t always comfortable addressing suicide with students. The goal of the training is to give school staff more skills and confidence to talk about the issue with students, to say something, adding to protocols the district already has in place.
If just one educator is able to make a connection with just one student, to steer a student in a different direction, then the two hours of training and funding to support it will have been money well spent.
But we hope that in raising suicide awareness, and in giving school staff more tools to help, the impact will be far greater. As we said, suicide will, at some time or another, touch nearly every one of us.