Federal Agencies Working to Deal With High Suicide Rates in Alaska

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Federal agencies that deal with Alaska Native health issues want to hear from Alaskans about preventing suicide.  Alaska Natives and American Indians have a suicide rate 72 percent higher than the general American population, so the agencies are holding listening sessions all over the country to collect feedback on what should be done to address the problem.

The effort is a partnership of the Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.  Doctor Rose Weakhee, the director of IHS’s Behavioral Health Program, says they want to listen rather than talk.

Weakhee says they’re inviting everyone – not just heath care providers – because it’s important to recognize how entire communities are impacted by suicide, and can collectively help to fight it.

Weakhee says it’s a complicated public health issue, especially in Native villages where risk factors are higher than in other communities.

The Indian Health Service is planning a national conference next summer about suicide prevention. The agencies are hosting 10 tribal listening sessions throughout the country.  The Alaska gathering is scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 30, in Anchorage at the Egan Convention Center.

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