July 28 2011Teen suicide is one of Alaska’s major health problems and a new program for high school students hopes to prevent teen suicides in Southeast Alaska. The Youth Ambassadors program is being launched by the SEARHC Behavioral Health/Suicide Prevention Program and the Southeast Alaska Suicide Prevention Task Force “1 is 2 Many.” The new program is open to high school juniors from each community in Southeast Alaska, and the students will work with their local schools and the task force. The Youth Ambassadors program is part of a community-based approach to suicide prevention, especially for our youth. “We started the program because Alaska has the highest rates of suicide in the country,” said Megan Gregory, a community project assistant with the SEARHC Behavioral Health/Suicide Prevention program. “We wanted to start a strong network for youth.” According to the Kids Count Alaska 2009-10 data book, 14 percent of teenage students in Alaska thought about suicide and 8.5 percent (about one in 12) reported actually trying to kill themselves during the year. The statistic came from the Youth Behavioral Risk Survey, which asked students from randomly selected high schools to answer survey questions on paper so they could remain anonymous. Very few of the suicide attempts were successful, only about 0.03 percent, but the stats are troubling. The rate of attempted suicide was higher for teenage girls (12 percent for girls, 5 percent for boys), but nearly three-quarters of successful suicides were for boys (75.6 percent). Alaska Natives accounted for nearly 70 percent of Alaska’s teenage suicides. SEARHC and the task force are starting the Youth Ambassadors program to create a bigger connection to local students, since so many of Alaska’s suicides are by teens and young adults. Suicide task force members will serve as one-on-one mentors for Youth Ambassadors participants. The Youth Ambassadors will meet at least once in person and every month by teleconference. They will discuss what’s happening at their schools and work on ways to encourage students to find alternatives to suicide. Youth Ambassadors also will work with their local school districts and suicide prevention coalitions. Being part of the Youth Ambassadors program will be something the students can put on their resumes as they apply for college. The program also might encourage students to pursue behavioral health careers. Application are posted at http://www.searhc.org/programs/behavioral_health.php and are due by Sept. 22. To learn more about Youth Ambassadors, contact Megan Gregory at 463-6645. Also, the 24/7 toll-free SEARHC Help Line, 1-877-294-0074, is available for use by any Southeast Alaska resident who needs help working through a crisis. The SEARHC Help Line is staffed by a team of master’s-degree-level mental health therapists who will listen and provide effective, compassionate and confidential care. The SEARHC Help Line is offered as a free resource to complement care provided by SEARHC Behavioral Health Services.