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Every life is valuable:
Statewide Suicide Prevention Council releases annual report


January 10, 2011
Monday PM

(SitNews) - While substantial efforts and $10 million have not reduced the suicide rate in Alaska over the last decade, the state has undergone a significant cultural shift to openly address the issue. That’s according to the fiscal year 2010 annual report from Alaska’s Statewide Suicide Prevention Council.

According to the report, between 2000 and 2009, there were 1,369 confirmed suicide deaths in Alaska, at least one suicide occurred in 176 Alaskan communities. In Ketchikan, 2.11% of all deaths between 2000 - 2008 were attributed to suicide. In Prince of Wales, outer Ketchikan, 3.77% of all deaths during this time period were attributed to suicide.

Suicide rates among Alaska Native peoples are higher than for any other ethnicity in the state, and are the highest of any ethnicity in the United States. However looking at the suicide rates according to ethnicity tells one side of the story. The actual numbers of suicides tell another. For example, in 2009, twice an many White or Caucasian Alaskans (89) committed suicide as Alaska Natives (44). Since 2001, 847 Caucasian alaskans have committed suicide and 411 Alaska Natives have committed suicide. The report says that what this tells us is that suicide is not confined to one ethnic group. Suicide is an Alaskan problem.

“The message that every life has value is being spread in communities all over our state,” said Council Chair William Martin.

Communities and organizations that were previously unwilling to acknowledge suicide are now sharing ideas with each other and incorporating national best practices.

“This improved communication is a crucial foundation for developing more effective strategies to reach the goal we’ve had for so long: fewer suicides,” said Kate Burkhart, executive director of the Council.

Report highlights:

  • The Council hosted the first Suicide Prevention Summit in January 2010, addressing a longstanding disconnect between state, tribal and community prevention efforts.
  • A new web portal,, further connects stakeholders statewide.
  • Over the past decade, fewer, larger grants are being awarded, with more conditions.
  • Suicide prevention funding has increased sharply in the last few years due to a major federal grant.
  •  Careline, the statewide suicide prevention hotline, saw call volume jump 55% in the second half of fiscal year 2010 over the same period in the prior year. Employees attribute the boost to outreach by partners Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, NAMI chapters, and military Family Advocacy Centers.
  • Council meetings in Dillingham, Anchorage and Toksook Bay gathered extensive public comment. Much of the Toksook Bay meeting was held in Yupik with English translation.
  • Successful Council efforts relied on partnerships with the Alaska Mental Health Board, Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

The progress highlighted above addressed some but not all of the gaps identified in Alaska’s suicide prevention net. Weaknesses include:

  • a limited number of support groups for survivors of suicide, in only six communities;
  •  a lack of support services for Alaskans made vulnerable by loss of structure (veterans, transition-age youth, immigrants, Alaska residents displaced due to economic or environmental hardships);
  • a lack of effective bullying prevention and intervention programs;
  • a lack of age-appropriate services for 18- to 25-year-olds.

The report avoids conclusions, aiming instead to advance conversations about how suicide can be better prevented. The upcoming statewide suicide prevention plan will include recommendations and strategies for Alaska's suicide prevention systems. The Council invites all Alaskans to join in planning for the future and sharing the message that every life is valuable.


On the Web:

Download the Report
Mending the Net: Suicide Prevention in Alaska 2010 (35 page pdf)

Stop Suicide Alaska


Source of News:

Alaska Department of Health & Social Services


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