Teachers play a very important role in the lives of their students. One important role they now play in Alaska is watching for warning signs of suicide.
Gov. Sean Parnell signed Senate Bill 137 into law in 2012. Now, 7th-12th grade teachers and certain other staff are required to have annual suicide prevention training, something supported by student leaders and the Alaska Association of Student Governments.
Teachers and school personnel are being trained in warning signs of suicide, how to intervene safely and appropriately, and how to connect students to professional help. Warning signs that someone may be at risk for suicide include withdrawing from peers or teachers, increased risk-taking, changes in mood, or use of drugs and alcohol. Some students might express feelings that their life doesn't matter, or there is no hope, or they can't do anything right. This mandatory training will help teachers identify students who need help and provide ways to connect them to the help they need.
While this is a great step forward to helping Alaska's youths, teachers aren't the only ones who should be trained in suicide prevention. The Alaska State Suicide Prevention Plan "Casting the Net Upstream: Promoting Wellness to Prevent Suicide," also released in 2012, provides a road map for ways that all Alaskans can help prevent suicide. The plan has five goals. The first goal, and possibly the most important one, is "Alaskans Accept Responsibility for Preventing Suicide."
This week, Sept. 8-15, is National Suicide Prevention Week. There are many ways that Alaskans can reach out and help prevent suicide this week and throughout the year. The state prevention plan has a checklist of ways that individuals, families, communities and the entire state can help prevent suicide.
Individuals can help prevent suicide by:
- Restricting access to lethal means by making sure their guns, alcohol and medicines are locked up;
- Getting trained in one of the many suicide prevention programs available, such as safeTALK or Mental Health First Aid; or
- When someone shows signs of depression or risk of suicide, asking them if they are doing OK and listen to them when they talk to you.
If you know someone who is thinking of suicide, you can provide them with the Careline crisis intervention telephone number, 877-266-4357, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, 800-273-8255.
The Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Education and Early Development continue to work on ways to help Alaskans prevent suicide. You can learn how to help prevent suicide in Alaska by accessing the many online materials that are available. Start by visiting stopsuicidealaska.org, an online portal designed to help Alaskans help other Alaskans in need.
Teachers do great work across Alaska all year. With a new school year in progress, take a moment to thank your children's teachers for all of the great work that they do. Thank them for taking the time to get trained in suicide prevention and helping Alaska become a healthier state for generations to come, and show your support by getting involved in suicide prevention in your community.
William Martin is a Tlingit elder and the chairman of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council.