Many people in Alaska have been directly impacted by suicide or knows someone who has. 

"Suicide unfortunately is now the leading cause of death among Alaskans between the ages of 10 and 64," Gov. Mike Dunleavy said. "This is a significant issue."

By signing Senate Bill 10, the governor extended the termination date of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council from June 30, 2019 to June 30, 2027, ensuring eight more years of support.

"Suicide is not a rural problem, it's not an urban problem, it's a statewide problem, it's an Alaskan problem," Dunleavy said. "By extending the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, we are renewing its efforts to prevent this heartbreaking problem and provide resources to families schools and communities."

The signing of SB 10 allows the council to continue providing funding for prevention grants administered by DEED, which go into local school districts to help at-risk youth going through difficult times.

Rep. Geran Tarr, who previously served on the suicide council, said her brother died from suicide. The experience motivates her to do what she can on the issue.

"We know there's just a lot of stress and anxiety and we see more and more of that in our young people and giving them those resources to say 'hey, if you're having a hard time, you know, ask for help,'" Tarr said. "Make sure someone knows you need that help and it's OK to ask for help. So, a big part of talking about it is removing the stigma because we don't want any individual who's struggling to feel like they can't ask for help."

According to Verdie Bowen, Alaska's director of veterans affairs, asking for help is one of the biggest problems military veterans struggle to overcome.

"Most of the time in the military they train you to be a single standing individual," Bowen said. "So, asking for help sometimes is not something that they do so it causes us even more issues trying to get them into healthcare."

Bowen says veterans who live in Alaska's coastal communities or in the Interior have a much harder time adapting than those in Anchorage.

"The unemployment rate's a lot higher than it would be say like in the Anchorage area," Bowen said. "Simply because of the fact that there just isn't that kind of industry out there, and so, without a job, that automatically brings forth other issues along with the, you know, you have that feeling of hopelessness, the inability to take care of your family and then suicide will become an option and it should not be an option."

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, one person dies by suicide every 44 hours on average in Alaska. In 2017, nine times as many people died by suicide than in alcohol related motor vehicle accidents. 

"I think every life is so important that if we save one life, we are making a difference," Tarr said. "We just hope that we can save more lives and encourage more people to ask for help."

For immediate help if you are in a crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential. You can also call the Alaska Careline at 1-877-266-HELP or the Mental Health Emergency Counseling line at 907-563-3200.

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