September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and that’s especially important in the year 2020. After a summer of isolation and protests, people are paying more attention to mental health than ever before. It’s also important in Alaska, which has the 4th highest suicide rate in the country, with roughly one suicide death every 48 hours. Odds are you, or someone you know, has been affected by suicide or suicidal thoughts.
“There’s a saying that suicide is everyone’s business, and I don’t think many people think that,” noted Farrah Greene-Palmer, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at APU.
So how do you make it your business? It could be as simple as calling a classmate, especially during these distant times. Preventative factors that build resilience against suicide include effective mental healthcare, problem-solving skills, and – importantly – connectedness to individuals, communities, and social institutions. Connecting to your culture is also key: cultivating and participating in a cultural identity can reduce the risk of attempting suicide by 69 percent.
Farrah has built her career on suicide prevention. She completed a post-doctoral position with members of the military, taught courses in the Caribbean, worked as a trainer with Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services, and led a suicide prevention program at Western Washington University (where, among other things, she helped host an art show on the theme of coping and vitality). For Farrah, suicide prevention isn’t depressing. It’s hopeful.
“It’s a very sensitive subject, but we need the hope in there,” she said. “It’s okay for people to work on things that build their hope and have fun, because that’s how we keep everybody safe.”
She recommends an upstream approach to suicide prevention; that is, rather than jumping in the river to rescue someone, try to reach them before they get in the water. An upstream approach requires less resources and less energy and can reach more people. The hardest time to intercept someone is when they are already in a state of crisis.
There are multiple ways for APU students to get involved in this proactive approach to suicide prevention. For one, students can receive training to recognize and respond to suicide risk (several APU faculty have received similar training). APU offers suicide prevention training from the QPR Institute free-of-charge to interested students. To get started, visit https://www.qprtraining.com/setup.php and enter the code APU.
Interested students can also enroll in a spring course on suicide prevention in diverse groups, co-taught by Farrah and Renee Georg. The course will discuss the multiple experiences people in crisis may have, and how to respond appropriately if needed. The course will also discuss how culture plays a role in prevention, and how cultural identities can strengthen individual resilience.
And, of course, you can simply call your classmates. “Coming together and community-building is important,” Farrah noted. This year has been challenging for everyone, and a quick check-in can go a long way. Building community is an easy entry point to suicide prevention.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the Alaska CARELINE (1-877-266-4357/HELP) or Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255). A chat option is available at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/