UAA Integrated Suicide Prevention Initiative offers help and information

by Kirrily Schwarz, Contributor

Photo by Corey Hester

Photo by Corey Hester

With suicide rates of college-aged students in Alaska continuing to soar, the UAA Integrated Suicide Prevention Initiative, or ISPI, is springing into action.

ISPI hosted a Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper training yesterday to educate students about suicide prevention and mental health promotion.

“If you look at the State of Alaska, our suicide rates are nearly five times what the national average is for college-aged students,” Heather Chord, a graduate research assistant at ISPI, said. “There are a couple of theories out there to explain this, but none of them are definitive yet.”Chord said long, cold and dark winters certainly play a role in the high rate.

“Our winters are especially hard for people, but suicide is usually the result of a combination of circumstances, not one single thing,” she said.

“Gatekeeper Training” teaches students how to recognize common signs of suicide risk, such as substance abuse, withdrawing from friends and family, using negative speech, dramatic mood changes and oversleeping or insomnia.

Training also helps students understand mental illnesses and know how to intervene.

A key principle that will be promoted is that students do not need to be afraid of talking about suicide.

“We focus on speaking directly about suicide,” Chord said.

“One of the biggest fears people have is that if they ask someone (if they are feeling suicidal), they’ll put the idea in their friend’s head. But research shows that’s not actually true. People are more responsive to a concerned approach.”

Training is not about turning students into mental health clinicians. Rather, the goal is simple.

“The message we want to impart is that resources are available, help is available and help is really effective,” Chord said.

For information about the next training session, contact ISPI at 907-786-6381.

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