It's a tragic problem that impacts Alaska's youth and their families, especially in rural communities. Suicide rates are six times the national average in western Alaska, a leading cause of death for teens and young adults.
State leaders including Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Gov. Sean Parnell, along with health service officials, participated in a round table discussion Monday in Bethel to discuss the issue.
The president of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation said at the conference the region experiences more than 13 suicides each year. Recently, in a six week period, there were 11 suicides in the area. The majority were 14-to-19 year olds.
“How are we failing our young people and what more can be done?” asked Murkowski.
The goal of the round table was to learn from communities, their perspectives on the issue and what they believe would be solutions and second, to share resources available to the communities.
The discussion was open to the public and about 200 people came to join in on identifying problems and brainstorming solutions.
Family members and survivors of suicide provided testimonies, but the most compelling words came from about a dozen teens who spoke up. For some, just a few words showed the impact of lives lost.
“Many of the young people struggle with that. Looking at their lives as trash because of all the struggles and for you as parents and for you as a community, don't be afraid to step out and show love to one another,” said speaker Erica Stone.
“For every one child that we lose, it has a big, negative impact to the whole community. It looks that young people look to that route to get out of trouble for whatever problem they may have,” said Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents.
The round table was held by the Association of Village Council Presidents and its community partners.