JUNEAU — Suicide prevention specialists will solicit input during the next three months as they prepare to help guide long-term statewide prevention plans, a state director said Tuesday.
The effort comes at the end of a year-long solicitation, said Kate Burkhart, executive director for the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council. It arrives less than three weeks after the council cited alarmingly high rates of suicide here, particularly among Alaska Natives.
Burkhart told a joint legislative health panel Tuesday that public awareness — and discussion — of Alaska’s chronically high suicide rates grew exponentially last year. That’s a good thing, she said, as groups and community leaders are now collaborating more to “maximize resources” used to fight the causes of suicide. She said the discussion also helps those engaged in prevention feel less isolated.
The Jan. 12 report from Burkhart’s office, “Mending the Net,” found suicide rates here held constant during the past decade despite millions of dollars spent on prevention.
The council plans to release recommendations this spring to update long-term state suicide prevention plans. Kate said comment, however brief, from a broad cross-section of residents will help.
“This evolution away from fear and silence on a problem that affects so much of the state ... (is) a huge achievement,” she told the panel, comprised of the House and Senate Health and Social Service committees.
Rep. Alan Dick, R-Stony River and a committee member, said he’s impressed with the council’s effort to attract input from different people, including those personally impacted by suicide. He said presentations such as Tuesday’s and similar events help demystify suicide, a problem he said isn’t simply a product of personal or family dysfunction.
“It can visit anyone,” he said.
Suicide rates among Alaska Natives are higher than any other ethnic group in the United States, the council reported last month.
Bernard Gatewood, a Fairbanks city councilman and liaison to the state council, said he’ll challenge teenagers to contribute to the planning project. Gatewood, also superintendent at the Fairbanks Youth Facility, said teens already say they’re not heard regarding social issues.
Melissa Stone, a prevention director for the state, said a year of public dialogue about suicide has drawn community leaders deeper into the search for solutions.
Burkhart said her office’s website and a multiagency clearinghouse (www.stopsuicidealaska.org) represent two places for people to weigh in.
Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-7582.