Dark months bring suicide attempts on campus

Everyone experiences depression from time to time, especially in Alaska during the dim, frigid winters. The university campus has experienced two deaths by suicide in the last decade — one in 1992, the first year of campus housing, and another the following year. Last week, there were two reported incidents of attempted suicide at UAA.

Sometime between the night of Jan. 10 and the morning of Jan. 11, a UAA student walked away from Providence Hospital where she was under counseling for her depression. The University Police Department was contacted and found that she had attempted to take her life by slitting her wrists while under the influence of alcohol.

The second suicide attempt occurred early on the morning of Jan. 19 and involved a female who had been drinking. She had also ingested Tylenol that, when combined with alcohol, could create a fatal dose. She called UPD sometime after. Officers responded and rushed her to Providence Hospital to get her stomach pumped.

College students are in the highest age bracket for self-inflicted death, according to the Counseling and Mental Health Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Over the last 30 years, the suicide rate in young people has more than trippled.

The most dramatic increase in the suicide rate has occurred in the 15 to 24 age bracket (up 312%), followed by the 20- to 24-year-old age group (up 163%) — both traditional college-age groups.

University Chief of Police Robert Bachand said he would almost guarantee that the majority of suicides involve alcohol. Some of the warning signs Chief Bachand suggested people watch for to indicate possible suicidal tendencies are depression, alcohol/drug abuse, giving personal possessions away, and writing letters to friends and family members implying suicide.

“The solution is you have to find somebody to talk to, and nine times out of 10 they have had the same problem…If we can get to that person, we have a good chance of changing their opinion,“ Bachand said.

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People who have lived in Alaska for a while may be aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that occurs to some people during the dark winter months. Also known as “cabin fever,” a large number people experience a chemical imbalance and/or depression during this time of year. Some symptoms of depression are feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, insomnia or excessive sleeping, significant appetite loss or gain, decreased interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, or themes of death in artwork, poetry, and/or conversation. Other suicidal warning signs may be previous attempts, loss of a significant friend or family member, or planning or talking about suicide.

A few ways to help recognize suicidal tendencies before they occur is, first and foremost, to listen when people come to you and are depressed. Be supportive of them and avoid being judgmental or argumentative about suicide. Take suicide seriously and don't minimize any reference towards possible action. Be direct when talking about suicide and ask if that is what they are thinking about doing. Determine the immediate danger and know that with each progressive indicator, that the chances for suicide increase. If you know that someone is in serious danger and is going to attempt suicide, talk with others and contact authorities.

For 24-hour Emergency Services and Suicide Intervention from the Southcentral Counseling Center, call 563-3200.