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Episode 28: Messages of Hope

By KTVA Alaska 9:16 AM November 9, 2015

Whenever you take up the subject of suicide, it isn’t easy to strike a balance between addressing the trauma while also remaining hopeful.

For decades, Alaskans have asked themselves why our suicide rate is so high compared to the rest of the nation — and the more important question: What can we do about it?

The urgency of answering these questions comes and goes. Those who work in the field of suicide prevention say it shouldn’t be that way — that we need to remain vigilant.

And yet the recent suicide deaths in the Bering Sea village of Hooper Bay — four in the course of two weeks — and that of the man who jumped from the balcony at the Dena’ina Center in October — have us once again wondering if we can do more.

Some are taking action.

In this week’s program, KTVA’s Emily Carlson and photojournalist Carolyn Hall take us north to Kotzebue to visit with students in the Teck John Baker Leaders program. When they arrived, a group at the high school was busy putting together a care package for teens in Hooper Bay — to offer encouragement and advice on how to work through the grieving process, something they know about after experiencing a cluster of suicides in their school district six years ago.

We also hear from the namesake of the program — Iditarod champion John Baker — who remembers being a shy and awkward teen in need of a healthy way to share his feelings. Baker is working with Gov. Walker on a wellness initiative. It’s called Alaskans Changing Together. The initiative aims to encourage Alaskans to work together to prevent abuse, neglect and suicide.

Another piece this week is infused with the energy of AK P.R.I.D.E., a performance group that meets regularly at the Northway Mall in East Anchorage.

KTVA’s Sierra Starks and photojournalist Emily Landeen give us a preview AK P.R.I.D.E.’s “Break the Cycle” tour of several Western Alaska villages, including Hooper Bay.

From Samoan warrior cries to breakdancing, AK P.R.I.D.E. is calling on young people to stick together and do battle against suicide.

If there’s a thread that ties this week’s Frontiers together, it’s the importance of communication.

Our guests are Raymond Daw and Rose Domnick, who work on the front lines of suicide prevention in Southwest Alaska through their work at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., headquartered in Bethel.

Daw is a Navajo, and Domnick is Yup’ik. Both have seen how the loss of language and culture has hurt their people. They say traditions that once offered protection from suicide and help in healing from life’s traumas disappeared under the strong influence of Western culture. Those traditions need to be brought back, they say.

You can hear more about this in this extended interview: http://www.ktva.com/shows/frontiers/web-extra-coping-with-loss-602/

You can learn more about Alaskans Changing Together on their website: http://www.alaskanschangingtogether.org

Also here’s a link to more information about sources for help in Alaska, suicide statistics and risk factors: http://dhss.alaska.gov/SuicidePrevention/Documents/pdfs_sspc/SSPCmediakit.pdf

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