Rate of suicide declining in Alaska

Juneau, Alaska (AP) 4-08

Alaska is continuing its efforts to remove the state from the nation’s Top 10 list for the number of suicide deaths per capita.

The Statewide Suicide Prevention Council aims to reduce suicides from a three-year average of 21 deaths per 100,000 to 15 deaths. The national average is about 11. It hopes to accomplish that goal by 2011.

Reports from the last few years show declines in the suicide rate, but it’s hard to tell if that is a trend, said state project coordinator James Gallanos.

During the past 10 years, Alaska’s number of suicide deaths fluctuated from 16.5 per 100,000 to 23.5 in 2004. The rate declined in 2005 to 19.8, and that year Alaska dropped on the nation’s list from No. 1 to No. 3. The rate dropped again in 2006, to 19.5 deaths.

“If it continues to decline, it will be better news,” Gallanos said.

Gallanos recently started “gatekeeper training” in a program designed specifically for Alaska. He teaches people to recognize signs and symptoms of depression, and wants to train others who will help him train more people to become gatekeepers.

The council, with a budget of a little less than $3 million a year, could use more funding, Gallanos said.

Bill Martin, president of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council, agrees more funds and training would be helpful.

Martin said he wants every tribal leader in Southeast to put suicide on their agenda.

“In our culture it’s just not something we really wanted to talk about, but the problem is there,” Martin said. “Unless we put it on the forefront it’s not going to go away.”