The mysterious case of longtime Fairbanksan Paul Pasika, who died alone of an apparent suicide in his home — where he remained for years — brings the issue of suicide and mental health back into focus.
Another recent high-profile suicide was that of Horizon Airlines employee Richard Russell, who hijacked an airplane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and crashed it into the Ketron Island in Puget Sound.
“I got a lot of people that care about me and it’s gonna disappoint them to hear that I did this,” Mr. Russell told air traffic controllers. “I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose I guess. Never really knew it until now.”
It would not be stretch to say there are many Alaskans who are suffering as Mr. Russell suffered. According to the American Association of Suicidology, 90 percent of the people who die as a result of suicide have a treatable mental health disorder such as depression or a substance abuse problem. Alaskans are no strangers to suicide. If you live in Fairbanks — or any Alaska community — for a couple years, there is good chance you have a friend, family member or acquaintance who has died by suicide or attempted it.
Alaska has failed to provide adequate mental health resources for its residents. Too many Alaskans are turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Too many people are slipping through the cracks. Too many people are attempting suicide. Too many are successful.
Perhaps it’s time to do some soul searching.
We are in the middle of an election season. What do the candidates — at the state level — think should be done to address mental health issues and suicide in Alaska? The future of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and the economy have hogged most of the spotlight this election season. But the dividend, or the lack thereof, isn’t killing people.
Do we place too much stigma on depression, bipolar disorder, drug abuse and other mental health issues? Do we shame people for seeking mental health treatment?
Are we serious about combating suicide and treating mental health? Should it move up on our priority list?
Alaska Natives suffer a higher rate of suicide per capita than non-Native Alaskans. What can we do to better serve Native communities?
Resources may be scant at the moment. We can watch out for each other, though. If you are concerned someone you know may be contemplating suicide, watch for some of the following signs:
• Withdrawing from family and friends.
• Quitting activities, or disengagement from things that were once meaningful.
• Giving away possessions, especially precious possessions.
• Talking about attempting suicide.
• Alcohol and drug abuse.
• Past attempts at suicide.
• A decline in hygiene habits.
If you do become worried about someone, reach out to them. Take them out for coffee or tea. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them.
If you or a friend is contemplating suicide, call the Fairbanks Careline Crisis Intervention Line at 452-4357 or the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sept. 13