Despite Prevention Efforts, Suicide Rates Remain High

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

An annual report by the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council shows Alaska Natives continue to have a high suicide rate, despite millions of dollars spent on the problem over the past decade.  But the report also indicates a new willingness to discuss the once taboo subject, and that may be the beginning of finding solutions.

Kate Burkhart is the Executive Director of the Council.  She says improved communication is the foundation for developing more effective strategies to reach the goal of fewer suicides.

The Council was established 10 years ago by the state legislature in response to a rash of suicides.  It’s duties include providing information about the suicide prevention system in Alaska and improving  the overall health status of Alaskans by reducing suicide and the impact of suicide on individual families and communities.

A suicide prevention summit held a year ago pointed to a disconnect between state, tribal and community suicide prevention efforts.

Although this year’s report avoids drawing conclusions,  Burkhart says it is pointing to a future direction, in which members of the public and prevention specialists will help implement a statewide plan.

A new web portal,, could help connect stakeholders.

Burkhart says a shift in how mental health grants were awarded over the past decade had a direct effect on small community programs, which were squeezed out by larger health providers with greater staffing resources.

Smaller entities could not compete for grants in terms of management and reporting requirements, and funding went to more regionalized entities.  Burkhart is quick to note that the municipality of Anchorage actually received some of the lowest levels of funding during that time period, and funding is not a question of urban over rural.

The Council’s report is the most recent attempt to highlight suicide prevention in the state.  A legislative report released this past November pointed to skyrocketing rates of suicide among Alaska Natives, and attempted to find underlying causes.  That same month, in Anchorage, federal BIA  representatives hosted a public discussion about suicide among Natives.  Burkhart says being willing to listen to a person in trouble and showing that each life is important is something that everyone can do to help with suicide prevention.

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