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September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Every September, we focus our attention and efforts to draw awareness to the tragic and often taboo topic of suicide. Nationwide, the statistics are sobering: suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), the overall suicide rate has increased by 35% in the U.S. since 1999.

And in Alaska, suicide has devastated our communities for decades and rates continue to rise. Our state has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country. In 2020 alone, suicide was the leading cause of death for youth ages 10-14 and for American Indian and Alaska Native youth ages 10-19 according to state health officials. The state’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that over 1 in 3 Alaska high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row. Additionally, nearly 20% attempted suicide and 25% seriously considered it.

But despite the saddening statistics, our suicide prevention efforts are not wasted. Suicide is most often preventable. In fact, for every death by suicide, there are 316 people who have seriously considered it but do not take their life. These statistics offer much more than just hope that our suicide prevention efforts are effective.

Since the isolation, fear and loneliness that affected many of us during the pandemic, we’re in greater need of suicide prevention today more than ever. The big question is how do we make the greatest impact?

Here are five ways you can take action and help our state’s children, teens and young adults in crisis:

  1. Know the warning signs. Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent or a teen yourself, it’s important to be able to identify when someone is having a mental health crisis. A change in behavior, conversations around wanting to die and feelings of sadness, agitation and hopelessness can all be warning signs of suicidal thoughts.

  2. Welcome uncomfortable conversations. Have an honest conversation with your kids, grandkids and loved ones about suicide. Spreading awareness is the first step to prevention. Let them know there is always help and that every life matters.

  3. Know what resources are available. If you suspect someone is or could become suicidal, they will need help immediately. Call 911 or the newly-enacted 988 line to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If it’s not an emergency and someone you care about could use support or simply someone to talk to, they can always call Careline Alaska at 1-877-266-HELP.

Most importantly, we hope you take the time to learn more about suicide prevention, long after September is over. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center provides valuable information on suicide and a list of Alaska resources for those looking for help.

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