We Alaskans like to be known for our self-reliance, but when we cross the line to suffering in silence, it’s no longer a good thing.
Alaska has had one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation for decades. We’ve wrestled with stigma and silence for generations.
The good news is that we’ve learned a lot, done a lot of work, and our progress has picked up momentum in recent years:
- Ninety percent of suicides are linked to treatable behavioral health challenges such as depression or substance use problems.
- Medicaid expansion has opened up access to mental health care for more than 20,000 Alaskans, and insurance claims show they’re seeking care.
- Our legislature passed and Governor Bill Walker signed into law reforms to our criminal justice system to get people with substance abuse and mental health challenges into treatment instead of jail.
- Childhood trauma, including having a parent in jail, raises the risk of suicide later — but positive factors counteract trauma’s negative effects. All of you who volunteer as coaches and tutors or do other things to support young people — you’re helping build resilience. Thank you.
- Suicidal crises tend to be brief. When suicidal behaviors are detected early, lives can be saved.
- Suicide prevention trainings have been found to reduce suicide rates in the following year. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has trained more than 7,600 Alaskans, adults and youth, over the past three years. Other agencies, such as the Alaska Training Cooperative and Southcentral Foundation, have also been busy training. Watch your community calendars for more classes in coming months.
And we have Careline, Alaska’s suicide prevention line. Careline is statewide, toll-free, confidential and available 24/7 at 877-266-4357 (HELP). Alaskans can also reach Careline most evenings by texting 4help to 839863 from 3-11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (standard rates apply). You can call in a crisis, but you can also call if you’re grieving or worried about someone.
If you think someone may be considering ending their life, please ASK:
Ask, “Are you thinking of ending your life?” (Asking this question will not encourage suicidal thoughts; that is a myth. Learn more at CarelineAlaska.com.)
Share that you care. Depression shutters people’s view and makes them unable to see how valuable their life is.
Keep the person company until you can connect him or her with Careline or other trained help, like an employee assistance program or a school counselor.
If you’re not sure how to ASK, call Careline; they can help you.
In addition to self-reliance, Alaskans also have a long tradition of helping each other. Just like stopping to help when we see a car off the road in a snow bank, asking if someone needs help is the right thing to do.
We all have a responsibility to try to help save a life.
Commissioner Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, Department of Health and Social Services, chair of the State of Alaska Suicide Prevention Governor’s Cabinet Workgroup , and workgroup members
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jay Butler;
Commissioner Heidi Drygas, Department of Labor and Workforce Development;
Commissioner Alaska National Guard Adjutant General Laurie Hummel, Department of Veterans and Military Affairs;
Commissioner Michael Johnson, Department of Education and Early Development;
Commissioner Walt Monegan, Department of Public Safety;
Commissioner Dean Williams, Department of Corrections;
Executive directors J. Kate Burkhart, Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, and Lauree Morton, Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault.