It’s no secret that Alaska has a
serious problem with suicide. Consistently ranking at or near the top of per-capita state statistics, Alaska has long struggled not just to bring down its suicide rate, but also to remove the stigma of discussing suicide and related issues. Despite widespread acknowledgment of the problem, the state hasn’t made much progress in lowering the number or rate of suicides. This week is national Suicide Prevention Week, a fitting time to review where things stand and what we each can do to help those close to us who may be struggling.
In a decades-long fight against suicide, Alaska has often ranked distressingly close to the top of national per-capita statistics, and that hasn’t changed much in recent years. In fact, from 2011 to 2014 (the latest year for which data is available), Alaska climbed from fourth place to second among U.S. states for per-capita suicides, with the rate itself increasing from 19.8 suicides per 100,000 residents in 2011 to 22.7 per 100,000 residents in 2014. The national average, by comparison, is far lower at 13.4 suicides per 100,000. In terms of raw numbers, that has meant roughly 150 to 170 deaths of Alaskans per year because of suicide, each one taking a serious emotional and psychological toll on the family and friends of the deceased.
For those worried that someone close to them might be struggling with suicidal thoughts, the American Association of Suicidology offers a rundown of warning signs:
. Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
. No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
. Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all of the time
. Feeling trapped — like there’s no way out
. Withdrawal from friends, family and society
. Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
. Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
. Dramatic mood changes
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to know if someone you know is having difficulties leading them to contemplate suicide. If you, a friend or family member are struggling with such issues, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help. The mental pathways leading to thoughts of suicide are difficult to navigate; it’s best to have help from professionals in walking yourself or someone you love back to a safe place.
Of course, there are measures you can take yourself as well. If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, don’t leave them alone. If there are any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could contribute to a suicide attempt, remove them from the area. Remember to call the national Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK and, if necessary, take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
Alaska’s high suicide rate won’t be reversed overnight, but it deserves attention and effort from all of us. While there’s no magic wand we can waive to stop suicides, what we can do is be kind to one another. We can be there for friends and family when they need us. And we can assist them in getting help when they need it.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sept. 7, 2016