Editorial: Address Alaska Native youth suicide
"No one is sure why Alaska's suicide rate has risen for four straight years and is the nation's highest. Alaska can round up the usual suspects -- alcohol and drug abuse, hopelessness, isolation, poverty, wretched family lives, lack of opportunity, sexual abuse, biological factors, culture, history, racism -- but we still won't have all the answers. We do have some answers, however. And as Susan Soule, mental health consultant and former director of the state's suicide prevention program, points out, we know the important questions.

Alaska needs more people who can ask those questions and have the skill and care to listen to the answers, comprehend them and know where and how to help -- or find help.

And, especially in Bush Alaska, we need more Alaska Natives doing the job, for they can connect in ways that outsiders from different cultures usually cannot.

And we need to make clear to both communities and individuals that we care. That alone might serve to tip the balance between life and death. Both Soule and James Gallanos, the state's current suicide prevention coordinator, point out that suicidal people struggle with a mix of reasons to live and reasons to die. Knowledge that a person or community matters, that others care, is a reason to live, an antidote to the isolation that contributes to suicide.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has asked the federal Department of Health and Human Services to pay for a $1.2 million study aimed at reducing suicide rates among Alaska Natives. The study would include a genetic component that might open the way to more treatment options. It's hard to get excited about another study. As Soule points out, current information about who is killing themselves and in what parts of the state might be more valuable in preventing more suicides, and probably wouldn't cost $1 million to get.

On the other hand, Gallanos said the study Murkowski has endorsed includes much more than genetic and biological research, which makes sense because suicide prevention is a complex challenge. The more rigorous research we have, the more we know and the more effective we can be at prevention."

Get the Story:
Our view: Suicide prevention (The Anchorage Daily News 5/31)

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Murkowski supports study of Native youth suicide (5/28)