Report says suicide remains epidemic in Alaska

By Rachel D'oro
Anchorage, Alaska (AP) January 2011

Suicide remains an epidemic in Alaska despite millions in program funding and substantial efforts by communities and organizations in the state over the past decade, a new report says.

The report by the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council for fiscal year 2010 says Alaska’s overall suicide rate is twice the national average, and that Alaska Natives continue to account for an even more disproportionate number.

It also notes that an alarming suicide rate among the state’s elderly residents warrants further scrutiny.

“Mending the Net: Suicide Prevention in Alaska,” released this week, also offers hope for finding solutions.

For example, it says progress is being made in reducing the stigma and fear of discussing suicide, and more people are publicly tackling the subject.

“The amount of dialogue around the issues of suicide has grown so much in the last year,” council director Kate Burkhart said last week. “Given that for decades this was a topic that no one felt comfortable or safe talking about, that is a huge achievement.”

Another step toward solutions is an online forum,, launched in September for organizations and others committed to suicide prevention who want to share information, ideas and support. A companion Facebook site for the forum has also been set up.

The 15-member council, established by state lawmakers in 2001, is scheduled to hold a meeting in Juneau in early February, said Burkhart, who wrote the annual report. The three-day meeting will launch the council’s goal for a multiyear suicide prevention plan and will include a public comment period open to those who attend in person and telephonically.

Many of the strengths and weakness of prevention efforts noted in the 34-page report were discussed last year at a summit in Anchorage.

Among the weaknesses were the lack of support groups for suicide survivors and their loved ones. Such groups are active in only six Alaska communities, although 176 communities were directly affected by the 1,369 confirmed suicides recorded in Alaska between 2000 and 2009.

“Increasing access to support for survivors, whether in person or through other means, was identified as a next step for participants and the state as a whole,” the report states.

Nationwide, the rate of suicides among Alaska Native and American Indians between the ages of 15 and 29 was nearly double the national rate in 2006-2007, according to figures available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alaska had a total of 284 suicides in the same two years, according to the federal data.

Alaska Natives, who made up less than 18 percent of the state’s population of about 680,000 at the time, accounted for 96 of those deaths. That’s a rate of 42.32 suicides per 100,000 people, compared with a rate of 16.6 for non-Natives.