The Kenaitze Indian Tribe has been posing this question to area organizations: Are we as a community ready to start to address suicide?
As a leading cause of death among Alaskans ages 10 to 34, there is no other choice but to answer yes.
Audra Gifford, the tribe’s suicide prevention program coordinator, along with other program team members, have been working to start to community conversation. One of the goals of the tribe’s program, called Yinihugheltani, which means “one’s spirit,” is to foster a sense of culture and connectedness. Program events are geared toward getting people out of the house, active, and able to talk about things affecting them.
Those goals are a crucial part of suicide prevention as Gifford also shared another alarming statistic: according to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 44.2 percent of Alaska Native youth felt so sad or hopeless every day for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some of their usual activities, something she characterized as a marker for a major depressive episode.
The survey also found that nearly a quarter of Alaska Native teens had seriously considered taking their own lives in the past year.
The survey numbers in those categories are high for all Alaska high school students as well — 33.6 percent felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more, and 20.1 percent seriously contemplated suicide. That compares to the national average of 29.9 percent of students feeling sad or hopeless for an extended period, and 17.7 percent who had seriously considered suicide.
The study also found that the number of Alaska students who seriously consider suicide has increased since 2013, while the national average has not changed.
And most alarmingly, the study found that 10.7 percent of Alaska students had attempted suicide in the past year.
We hope to see the conversation started by Yinihugheltani staff continued beyond public forums and community presentations, and that our community looks for ways to reach out and connect, especially with our youth.
Because numbers like these are simply too big to ignore.