Grant helps continue suicide conversation in schools

The conversation about suicide on the Kenai Peninsula continues on into the classroom, with support from the GCI Suicide Prevention Grant.

Last year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District launched the Sources of Strength initiative at schools across the district to raise awareness of different suicide prevention strategies. The international program builds influences that are meant to protect students, with a focus on reducing the acceptance of suicide as a response to distress and making it okay to ask for help.

“This is the first really solid thing I’ve seen that really can have a district-wide, positive impact,” said Pegge Erkeneff, communications liaison with KPBSD, who has a personal connection to the issue after losing her son to suicide.

The program started in Kenai Alternative High School, Homer Flex High School, Seward Middle School and Seward High School with training last year. Soldotna High School and Soldotna Prep are doing training next week, according to Erkeneff. After the training, all the schools involved so far will meet to connect for a Sources of Strength district conference.

“As I see this program spread into more of the high schools and do more of these trainings for students, it’s going to save lives,” Erkeneff said.

The district’s involvement with Sources of Strength is funded through a donation from the GCI Suicide Prevention Fund, which was awarded to nine Alaska organizations to help find effective ways to discuss suicide in their community.

“We were doing some research about suicide trends and we were overwhelmed when we found out that we actually had five suicides just on the Kenai Peninsula in 2015,” said Melissa Linton, the district’s curriculum coordinator. “Sources of Strength provided training for our peers; they were focusing on kids’ strengths and what they should be doing. Without that funding, we would have never been able to implement Sources of Strength.”

Other recipients of the grant include Covenant House Alaska, Juneau Youth Services and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

“Suicide is a tragedy that affects far too many Alaska families,” said Pam Lloyd, vice president of GCI Government, Healthcare and Education. “We hope that our contribution can make a difference by giving families, schools, and communities the tools they need to keep their friends and loved ones safe, secure and well supported.”

Suicide rates in Alaska are at a 20-year high, making it the leading cause of death among Alaskans ages 10 to 34.

A 2015 Alaska Department of Health and Social Services found that the suicide rate in Alaska was 27.1 per 100,000 in comparison to the national average of 13.3 per 100,000.

The peninsula is reacting to these numbers in force, with several programs such as Sources of Strength and the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s suicide prevention program Yinihugheltani.

“Our community, right now, seems really hungry to do something about suicide prevention,” Yinihugheltani Program Coordinator Audre Gifford said during a community event to raise awareness earlier this month.

Anyone suffering from thoughts of suicide should call Alaska’s Careline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com

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