Last week, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported some news that should have all Alaskans concerned: according to a statewide survey, a higher number of high school students have reported having suicidal thoughts this year.
The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey released this week states that 23 percent of students “seriously considered attempting suicide” during the past 12 months. That’s an increase from 17 percent in 2011. The survey found that the percentage of students who had “made a plan to attempt suicide” during the past 12 months increased from 14 percent to 21 percent and the percentage of students who “felt sad or hopeless” on a near daily basis increased from 27 percent to 36 percent. There was no significant change reported in numbers of students who attempted suicide.
Locally, there is an effort in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to address the issue. The District has launched an initiative called Sources of Strength to raise awareness of different suicide prevention strategies. The goal of the program is to build influences that are meant to protect students, with a focus on reducing the acceptance of suicide as a response to distress and making it OK to ask for help.
The district’s involvement in Sources of Strength is funded with a donation from the GCI Suicide Prevention Fund. It comes at a time when many students on the Kenai Peninsula are feeling the impacts of suicide first-hand — school district curriculum coordinator Melissa Linton told the Clarion that as they were researching trends, they were overwhelmed to discover five suicides on the peninsula in 2015.
Other organizations on the peninsula also are raising awareness of the issue, and taking steps to help ease the crisis. The Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s suicide prevention program Yinihugheltani, for example, has been making presentations around the Kenai Peninsula. The programs have similar strategies in encouraging positive connections within the community.
We are glad to see that our community is willing to take action on an issue that, for far too long, we’ve been unable to talk about. But with suicide rates in Alaska at a 20-year high, and with suicide the leading cause of death among Alaskans ages 10 to 34, it’s an issue that needs to be talked about.
Please, keep the conversation going.
Anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide should call Alaska’s Careline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).