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Alaska Observes World Suicide Prevention Day
and Alaska Suicide Prevention Month


September 11, 2004

Juneau, Alaska - Governor Frank H. Murkowski issued a proclamation Friday recognizing World Suicide Prevention Day and designating September 2004 as Alaska Suicide Prevention Month. The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO), first designated Sept. 10 as World Suicide Prevention Day last year as a way to begin focusing attention on the problem of suicide worldwide. Gov. Murkowski encouraged all citizens to acknowledge the pain those who have survived suicide experience, and to celebrate the joy and hope life offers with family and friends.

The Alaska Statewide Suicide Prevention Council commemorated World Suicide Prevention Day with a public program at the Anchorage Town Square and the release of the Alaska Suicide Prevention Plan. The council also unveiled its new theme "Suicide Hurts. It doesn't have to happen." for an awareness campaign that will run throughout Alaska in the coming months.

The Alaska Suicide Prevention plan distributed by the Alaska Statewide Suicide Prevention Council is based on the strong belief that everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention and that individuals and groups that address the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of individuals and communities in Alaska must work together if they are to be effective. The goal of the plan is clear: reduce the amount of suicide and non-lethal suicide behavior in Alaska.

Suicide is a leading cause of death worldwide and the fourth most common among those aged 15-44, according to WHO figures. Alaska is ranked sixth in the United States for suicides, with an average of 126 Alaskan lives lost each year and a suicide rate of 20.9 per 100,000 in 2002, twice the national average. Alaska Natives and young Alaskans between ages 20 and 30 years old experience even higher suicide rates.

Suicide has a number of complex and interrelated and underlying contributing factors. Mental disorders such as depression, and alcohol or drug use disorder, a history of physical or sexual abuse, a family history of suicide, loss of a loved one through death or the end of a relationship, legal or serious health problems, social isolation, poverty, and unemployment are among the many factors that can contribute to the feelings of pain and hopelessness that underlie suicide. Having access to means to kill oneself - most typically firearms, medicines and poisons - is also a risk factor.

Speakers at Friday's event included Alaska Statewide Suicide Prevention Council Chair Jeanine Sparks, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, Alaska Statewide Suicide Prevention Council member Sen. Ben Stevens, Former Alaska state senator Rick Halford and Alaska Department of Health & Social Services Deputy Commissioner Karleen Jackson. Sharon Henderson, Derrica Walton and Sarabima Ifopo of the Mountain View Boys & Girls Club and Shirley Mae provided entertainment.


Suicide Facts

Alaska's suicide rate is consistently one of the highest in the nation


The Impact of Suicide

About one million people die from suicide around the world each year, representing one death every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Suicide is a leading cause of death worldwide, particularly in younger people. Suicide attempts are more frequent than completed suicide, with estimates of 20 to 50 million non-fatal attempts, but no reliable data exists on the full extent of this problem on a global basis. For every suicide death there are many family members and friends whose lives are profoundly affected emotionally, socially and economically.

Alaska's suicide rate is consistently one of the highest in the nation. In 2002, Alaska had 131 suicides for a rate of 20.9 for every 100,000 residents, almost twice the national average of 10.6 for every 100,000. Alaska Natives experience suicide rates that are nearly four times the national average. Alaskan males commit 86 percent of suicides and young males are especially inclined to take their own lives.

What are the Causes?

Suicidal behavior has a large number of underlying causes, which are complex and interrelated. Living in poverty, unemployment, loss of loved ones, arguments with family or friends, a breakdown in relationships and legal or work-related problems are all acknowledged as risk factors when affecting those who are predisposed or especially vulnerable to self-harm.

A family history of suicide is a recognized risk factor with both social and genetic correlates. Other predisposing factors include alcohol and drug abuse, a history of physical or sexual abuse in childhood, and social isolation. Mental disorders, such as depression, alcohol and substance abuse, play a central role in a large proportion of suicides.

Physical illness, particularly those that are painful or disabling, increase suicide risk. In addition, having access to means to kill oneself (most typically firearms, medicines, and agricultural poisons) is both an important risk factor in itself and an important determinant of whether a suicide death will occur. Having made a previous suicide attempt is a powerful indicator of subsequent fatal suicidal behavior, particularly in the first six months after the first attempt.

There are also a number of factors that may protect people against suicidal feelings or acts. These include high-esteem and social "connectedness," especially with family and friends, having social support, possessing good coping skills, being in a stable and happy marriage, and commitment to a religion.

How Can Suicide Be Prevented?

Early identification and appropriate treatment of mental disorders is an important strategy for preventing suicide. There is also some evidence that educating primary health care personnel in the identification and treatment of people with mood disorders may result in a reduction of suicide rates among those at risk.

Interventions based on the principle of connectedness and easy access and availability of help, such as telephone programs to check up on isolated elderly. Psychosocial interventions, suicide prevention centers, and school-based interventions are promising strategies. Restricting access to means of suicide is particularly relevant when access can readily be controlled. There is an association between possession of handguns in the home and suicide rates.

The potential impact of the media on suicide rates has been known for a long time. Present-day evidence indicating that media reporting can encourage imitation suicides depends largely on the way the event is reported - the tone and language used, how the reports are highlighted, and whether accompanying images are used. Responsible reporting by the media is imperative.

The loss of a person by suicide is often experienced differently and more intensely than feelings of grief in the relatives and close friends after a death from natural causes. In general, there is still a taboo attached to the discussion of suicide and those bereaved by suicide may have fewer opportunities to share their grief with others. Communicating one's feelings is an important part of the healing process. For this reason, support groups for person's bereaved by suicide serve an important role.



For more information on suicide facts:

Alaska Statewide Suicide Prevention Council


Source of News Release:

Office of the Governor
Web Site



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