Murkowski Calls on HHS to
Address Native Youth Suicide
May 28, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on
Wednesday asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius to fund a $1.2 million study designed to reduce the
high rate of suicides among Alaska natives.
In a letter to the Secretary, Murkowski pointed to a study proposed
by Commissioner Warren Zapol of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission
that would examine the mental and behavioral health issues facing
Alaska Native populations living in the Arctic. Zapol's study
would be conducted by the Institute of Medicine at the National
Academy of Sciences.
This new study would seek to determine the specific genes that
contribute to major depressive disorders and alcohol abuse leading
to targeted treatment options for Alaska Natives.
"According to the Indian Health Service, suicide rates for
American Indians and Alaska Natives are 70 percent higher than
the general United States Population," Murkowski wrote.
"Suicide is the second leading cause of death for American
Indian and Alaska Native youth ages 10-24. Males are especially
at risk and commit suicide at a rate five times higher than females."
Murkowski's letter comes in the wake of a May 16, 2009, article
in the Anchorage Daily News that highlighted the tragic story
of a 17-year-old girl from the community of Selawik, in the Northwest
Arctic region of Alaska. The girl's suicide triggered a string
of suicide attempts within the community.
"Youth suicides devastate rural communities which are characterized
by tightly knit extended families" Murkowski wrote. "The
Maniilaq Association, the regional tribal health care provider
for the Northwest Arctic, has reported that in 2008, for every
suicide in their region, there were 13 suicide attempts."
Murkowski added: "Suicide affects our Native communities
in epidemic proportions and we must do all that we can to support
our clinicians, communities and leaders to address the issue
of youth suicide" she wrote in her letter to Sebelius. "We
must bring the best science to Alaska Native communities."
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