Principal Investigator: Jesse S. Metzger

Rural Alaskans have been hit harder than any other population by the suicide epidemic of the past twenty years.  Over the past 10 years, suicide rates in the regions surrounding the Arctic Circle have been recorded at levels three times higher than the Alaska rate and six times higher than the national rate.  The wave of grief that follows a suicide hits every member of the community and echoes for years afterward, especially in small, close-knit, remote villages.  Over the past five years alone, there has not been a village in the targeted region that has been untouched by this tragedy. 

Both Maniilaq and Kawerak have moved suicide prevention to the forefront of tribal focus.  The development of a groundbreaking effort to join these two regions of Northern Alaska has resulted in a movement that will unite communities and lead to unified suicide prevention efforts.  The Northern Alaska Wellness Initiative project will target residents in 27 remote villages of Northwest Arctic Borough (NWAB) and the Bering Strait Region (BSR), who are nearly 100% Alaska Native.  These individuals, from youth to adult, have a greater need for a comprehensive, culturally-relevant trainings and interventions designed to create a self-sufficient, community-level suicide prevention. Residents of these targeted villages are experiencing the greatest need, and recognize the importance of creating sustainable, community-led prevention and intervention programming.  In both NWAB and the BSR, foundational suicide prevention work has already taken effect, involving local residents in planning and grassroots activities.

Goals of the Northern Wellness Initiative are described below and are aligned with the Alaska Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan:

 

Alaska Statewide Suicide Prevention
Northern Alaska Wellness Initiative
Project Strategy
Suicide prevention has broad based support
Suicide prevention has broad based support.
Develop NAWI. Through outreach and wellness groups, project staff will work in conjunction with all local entities to determine sustained education, training, and suicide prevention initiatives.
Alaskan communities support the development of protective factors and resiliency across the entire lifespan.
Increase positive cultural identify and self-efficacy through involvement in leadership and wellness activities.
Establish community wellness groups, mentors, and peer leaders in every village to participate in workshops, training, and educational opportunities for cultural based wellness and suicide prevention.
  Community members, including youth, identify elevated suicide risk and respond appropriately.
Using local and regional resources and building on cultural realities, we will develop outreach, awareness, and training to increase social support and intervention for at risk youth
People who work in institutions and groups with a concentration of know higher risk populations are able to identify warning signs and response appropriately.
People who work in institutions and groups that serve high risk youth populations (medical & school personnel, pastors, behavioral health employees, youth court, juvenile justice, family services, are able to identify warning signs and respond appropriately.
Appropriate suicide prevention education will be provided to all of the region's youth serving institutions (medical & school personnel, pastors, behavioral health employees, youth court, juvenile justice, family services staff, etc.
Alaskan communities respond appropriately to suicide attempts and suicide completions.
Community members will be trained and supported in intervening with youth who are at risk or actively suicidal, and will develop practices for postvention that reduce the risk of suicide clusters.
Using local and regional resources and building on cultural realities, we will develop outreach, awareness, and training that informs and shapes each community's response to suicide ideations, attempts, and deaths.

Kawerak, Inc. has contracted with CBHRS to provide an evaluation of these suicide prevention efforts. This project is funded through Kawerak, Inc. and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services.