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Anchorage Daily News 

Guest opinion

Fighting suicide in Alaska happens one conversation at a time

 

October 3, 2018



Some problems aren't measurable in numbers.

This isn't to say that there aren't plenty of numbers that tell us how serious a problem suicide is in Alaska: At more than 22 suicides per 100,000 residents, Alaska's suicide rate is almost twice the U.S. average and is regularly at or near the highest of any state in the nation. More than 150 Alaskans per year, on average, end their own lives. And young Alaska Native men specifically are at risk, with a suicide rate more than four times the national average.

But there's no way to quantify the loss of a sibling, of a best friend. There's no way to adequately measure the contributions Alaskans lost to suicide would have made in their communities _ the families they would have raised, the children they would have inspired, the work they would have done. All we know is what a suicide feels like when it happens close to us: devastating and incomprehensible.

In the wake of a suicide, we are always left wondering what more we could have done. And although there's little sense abasing ourselves over actions we could have taken in the past but didn't, that sentiment can be helpful if turned forward. We can't save those who are already gone, but we should do everything we can to help those who are here and in need of help _ and to seek that help ourselves when we need it.

Some of the Alaskans bravely standing up to speak out on a subject that is often taboo are also among the youngest. A 4-H group from the Interior Alaska village of Tanana has for years tackled difficult subjects, with young people in the community speaking out about how they have been affected by suicide, domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse. Along with adult leader Cynthia Erickson, they have spread their message in high-profile venues such as the Alaska Federation of Natives' annual convention, as well as via a river journey earlier this year in which participants visited communities along the river system and shared personal stories and gave support to residents of other villages.

There are other solutions that can help combat suicide on an institutional level: Alaska has a well-acknowledged mental health services deficit, and resources to more quickly help those who are struggling could make a world of difference in some cases. And informational campaigns to spread awareness of resources such as the Alaska Careline, (877) 266-4357, can connect people with someone they can feel safe talking to about their issues.

But we each also have a responsibility on an individual level, to be those people to whom our friends and family members can feel safe talking and in whom they can confide. We all struggle at times, and there is no reason we must struggle alone.

Suicide is a thief that robs Alaska of some of its brightest lights and its tallest trees. To fight it, we must stand together, giving help to others when they need it and reaching out when we do. To the extent that we can win this fight, we will win it through love and connection with one another.

If you or someone you know needs help, the Alaska Careline can be reached at (877) 266-4357. The Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255. And you can connect to a trained crisis counselor at any time, 24/7, by texting 741-741

 

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