According to the CDC, the national suicide rate is 14 suicides per 100,000 people. Alaska is more than double that at 28.1 suicides per 100,000 people. On July 16, however, the new “988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.” went live across the state.
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, while offering prevention and crisis resources. It also provides best practices for professionals across the country.
The website notes that by dialing new 988 number, callers are routed to trained counselors who will answer phone calls to offer help. Callers are also able to text and chat with counselors.
An easy-to-remember hotline number has been in the works for years. The Alaska Department of Health’s Division of Behavioral Health provides information about the hotline, explaining that “988 can be used by anyone, any time. 988 is a direct connection to compassionate care and support for anyone who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts, who is at risk of suicide, or who is struggling with emotional distress.”
For those who call regarding a friend or family member in distress, counselors will walk them through how to help and provide resources. Services are also available for the deaf or hard of hearing and non-English speakers.
According to the CDC, U.S. suicide rates increased 30% between 2000-2018, but declined in 2019 and 2020.
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In Alaska, in 2020, suicide was the leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native youth ages 10-19, and for youth ages 10-14. Suicide was also the second leading cause of death overall among Alaskans ages 15 to 34, according to the Alaska Department of Health’s Division of Behavioral Health section.
Rural areas of the state have higher rates of suicide versus cities or suburbs. Alaska also has a high rate of people with American Indian or Alaska Native descent, groups which suffer from higher rates of suicide.
In 2018, the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act became law. Leah Van Kirk, statewide suicide prevention program coordinator with the Alaska Division of behavioral health, explained that by 2020 the Federal Communications Commission designated 988 to be the dialing code for the lifeline, and that it would be available by July 2022.
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was passed through Congress in September of 2020, and signed by then-President Donald Trump.
To learn more about the hotline, click here.