Voice of Alaska: Break the silence, talk about suicide

Silence seeks to hide hopelessness and grief. Silence prevents us from asking for help when we need it. Silence can increase our grief until it is so crippling, there seems to be no hope.

We’ve learned a lot about suicide prevention over the years, and one thing research and experience show us is that talking about suicide is key to preventing suicide:

■ It is important to talk about suicide.

■ How we talk about suicide is equally important.

■ It is OK to ask someone if he or she is thinking about suicide.

After a suicide, we need to acknowledge the loss, reach out to others, and ask how they are coping. Acknowledging feelings of despair can be the first step towards a healthier frame of mind.

If you are worried about someone, call Careline, Alaska’s suicide prevention line, 877-266-HELP (4357). Careline helps people who are in crisis, people who are worried about someone, people who are grieving — anyone who needs to talk. Careline is confidential, open 24-7, and staffed by trained Alaskans. Careline can also be reached most afternoons and evenings by texting 4help to 839863. Share the Careline number with anyone you are concerned about. Active duty military, veterans and their families can call Careline or the national hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and hit 1 if they’d like to reach a Veterans Affairs clinician who is familiar with military and veteran issues. They can also text to 838255 or use a confidential chat option on the website www.veteranscrisisline.net.

You can learn how best to reach out and help someone. Communities statewide offer classes on warning signs. (Did you know anger can be a sign of depression?) Find information under “Training” at StopSuicideAlaska.org.

Some of the people we talk to, or who see news stories, or who attend memorial services for those who have died by suicide, are hurting and considering taking their own life. We must be careful in reporting, talking about, and mourning our losses to suicide so that we do not glamorize or normalize suicide. We need to remind each other that there is hope and there is help.

Celebrate the person’s life rather than focus on how the person died. Take the time to talk about help and resources available to people in crisis, so that people feeling lost or vulnerable seek help rather than consider suicide. Suicide is not the way to cope with the complex issues that usually precede a suicide. Finding help is -- almost 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a treatable mental health issue such as depression or substance use disorder.

“Postvention” is the term for everything we do after a suicide to minimize the risk of further suicides. A postvention how-to guide for communities is available on StopSuicideAlaska.org. It provides tools and information to help communities cope with the ripples of pain and damage and promote healing.

We invite Alaskans to visit StopSuicideAlaska.org and learn more.

Kate Burkhart is the executive director of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council.

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