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OPINION: Combating Alaska's suicide crisis will take all of us - Anchorage Daily News

Author: Anchorage Daily News

Source: https://www.adn.com/opinions/2023/10/27/opinion-combating-alaskas-suicide-crisis-will-take-all-of-us/

Image of OPINION: Combating Alaska's suicide crisis will take all of us - Anchorage Daily News

(iStock / Getty Images) Editor’s note: This commentary discusses suicide.If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24-hour support.I recently received an email from a friend.It was a suicide note.It included instructions on who should get the dog, what to do with clothing and some favorite things, and a request to be cremated.The note included apologies to some, criticism for others, and thanks to all those who had tried to help.By the time I received the time-delayed email, my friend hoped to be dead.Should I go to the apartment? Open the door with the hidden key?What would I find when I went in?I called and sent texts, but got no response, so I called the police.They initiated a response from police officers and the mobile crisis team.Then I went to the neighborhood and watched from a safe distance as police surrounded and then entered the apartment. An officer walked down the street.He gave me the news: Non-responsive, shallow breathing and blue.Alive.And the ambulance is on the way.He gave me the dog and some dog toys. After paramedics wheeled the stretcher out of the apartment, I took the dog home.The officer later wrote, “You saved a life today.”In our country, suicide is at an all-time high.Our armed forces are working to address a substantial increase in suicide among active-duty service men and women.And in writing about the youth mental health crisis, Sen.Dan Sullivan recently described the statistics as “shocking,” with a 29% increase in adolescent suicides over the past decade and a 50% increase in suicide attempts by teenage girls during the pandemic.Here in Anchorage, a group of high school students, trying to help address depression and other youth mental health challenges, formed a group called Mental Health Advocates for Storytelling. They talk publicly and personally about their struggles with suicidal thoughts and depression.Their courageous work makes a difference: They have saved lives.In Alaska, suicide is even more prevalent among victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and people who live in our rural communities.Our public schools report many of our youth contemplating suicide and far too many suicide attempts.Sullivan describes addressing youth mental health as “the health care challenge of our time.” To help address this challenge, Alaska Sen.Elvi Gray-Jackson introduced Senate Bill 80 in 2021 to add mental health to the state guidelines for public school health classes. Sen.Gray-Jackson reintroduced the legislation this year, and SB 24 remains stalled in the Legislature.The goal of the legislation is to help our youth address their mental health challenges.It will help save lives.Our youth include some of our most vulnerable people.Alaska needs to recognize that health extends beyond physical health when teaching health education. Mental health education is health education.Some children and teenagers don’t have an opportunity for these conversations at home.Our schools can and should play a role in legitimizing and normalizing mental health — an area sometimes clouded by misinformation and stigma.The statistics, news reports and editorials can feel strangely impersonal — the statistics may be getting worse, but it can sometimes seem like someone else’s problem.I hadn’t known anyone directly affected since Charlie, my best friend from childhood, committed suicide over three years ago.Until I received the suicide note last month.The officer says I saved a life that day. I know that my call helped; but it was the police officers, the mobile crisis team, the paramedics, the emergency room doctors and nurses, and the patient safety attendants who gave substance to my call.My best friend Charlie didn’t send an email and no one called the police.The increase in suicides is a public health crisis that won’t go away if we continue to ignore it.It is important to pass meaningful legislation to help address this mental health crisis on a systemic level.As a community, we must do more to address the increase in suicides and provide better access to mental health care.As individuals, we must listen to our friends and neighbors and help whenever we can.A good next step is passing the mental health education bill. Let’s take that step together.Rep.Matt Claman represents West Anchorage in the Alaska State Senate.The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints.To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com.Send submissions shorter than 200 words to [email protected] or click here to submit via any web browser.Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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