Governor calls for increased emphasis on suicide prevention

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- After a decade of nearly 130 suicides a year in Alaska, Gov. Tony Knowles is calling for increased attention and spending for suicide prevention.

Knowles is seeking an additional $325,000 for prevention in fiscal 2002, as well as $600,000 to replace a mental health center in Galena.

The suicide rate for the entire state is more than double the nation's average, and is higher for Alaska Native males and young Alaskans than for other state residents, according to officials with the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Galena and surrounding Interior villages have experienced large numbers of suicides recently, said Diana Weber, director of the mental health center in Galena. One village reported three suicides between October and February, she said.

Knowles is working with the Alaska Mental Health Trust and the Alaska Federation of Natives to create a suicide prevention council and designate a coordinator to organize the state's efforts. Additional state funding would supply grants to communities dealing with suicide, said Julie Penn, assistant for the Department of Health and Social Services.

Knowles' request for an additional $600,000 would replace Galena's mental health center, an old trailer recycled for different uses over the years, Weber said. Insulation is stuffed in the windows, she said.

''If it gets really cold, our pipes freeze and we have to have heaters pointed at all the pipes or they flood and destroy all our patient files,'' Weber said. ''It's also got thin walls so it's hard to counsel clients and maintain any confidentiality.''

Weber said she hopes the new clinic will have apartment units to house battered women and space for alcohol treatment and suicide prevention services.

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