May 06 2010A new Southeast Alaska Suicide Prevention Task Force met for the first time on Thursday and Friday, April 29-30, at the Sheet’ká Kwáan Naa Kahídi in Sitka. The task force will develop a regional suicide prevention plan that can be taken back to each of the communities for implementation. The task force is hosted by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Behavioral Health Division as part of the Alaska Youth Suicide Prevention Project. In addition to representatives from the SEARHC Behavioral Health Division, the task force features members from local and regional tribes, the Alaska State Troopers and local first responder groups, behavioral health providers, local governments, the Sealaska Heritage Institute, the Central Council of the Tlingít and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, suicide survivors, the Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp and Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp. “There were a lot of discussions about the problems that affect our communities today,” SEARHC Behavioral Health/Suicide Prevention Manager Wilbur Brown said. “We discussed what the group felt were gaps in services, and followed up with a discussion of what we could do to increase the protective factors in our communities. I felt this group did a lot of work in a short time and they were great representatives for their respective communities and cultures. We look forward to hearing feedback from the community at large and look forward to our next meeting in June. At the next meeting we plan to spend more time on action items to reduce suicide in our communities.” Since this was the first meeting, part of the agenda was dedicated to introductions and getting to know what’s happening in local communities. There was discussion about Gatekeeper training to help smaller communities have residents learn suicide prevention/intervention skills, and a discussion about what happens when a suicide occurs in a community and what support networks are available to help survivors cope with the loss. Other discussions were about the high rates of suicide among recent veterans and youth, and how a loss of culture affects suicide rates. Representatives from SEARHC Behavioral Health and Sitka Counseling And Prevention Services (SCAPS) introduced their services and discussed how their programs can be accessed. There also was a discussion of the SEARHC Help Line, a new 24/7 toll-free crisis line at 1-877-294-0074 that is available for residents of Southeast Alaska and is staffed by a team of master’s-degree-level mental health therapists who will listen and provide effective, compassionate and confidential care. Another discussion dealt with marketing the various programs that can help someone who is going through a crisis and may be thinking about suicide. “I believe this group concluded that no challenge is insurmountable,” said Melody Price-Yonts, Director of the SEARHC Behavioral Health Division. “It is with this determination that SEARHC wants to collaborate with all Southeast Alaska partners to endeavor in a community-based approach for suicide prevention. We must engage, we must listen to each other and we must support each other. We need to talk openly about suicide. It should not be a taboo topic. We need to teach the youth that suicide is not OK, and we need to make sure each and every individual knows that there are options and that suicide is not one of them.” The task force meets again on June 17-18 in Juneau. For information, contact Wilbur Brown in Sitka at 966-8753.