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High suicide rate hits Homer-Anchor Point area since Sept.

Naomi KloudaHomer Tribune

A 20-year-old Homer man was found dead in his car more than a week ago from a gunshot wound police believe to be an apparent suicide.

That brings to five the number of suicides in the Homer-Anchor Point area since early September, as well as three attempted suicides.

Homer Police responded at 9:18 a.m. on Nov. 9 to a report of a suspicious circumstance. A caller reported seeing a vehicle parked at the scenic lookout on Skyline Drive and stated that the vehicle was occupied, but the occupant was not moving.

“The caller also stated that the left rear window of the car was broken out,” a police press release said. Officers responded to the scene and found Nickolas D. Phillips. It appeared he died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, the police reported.

Conditions at the scene indicate Phillips died sometime the previous night or early morning hours.

Phillips worked at Land’s End Resort as a dishwasher. Fellow employees there recall he was great to work with, usually upbeat, and described him as spiritual.

The state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage has ordered an autopsy. Investigation by the Homer Police Department is pending the results of the autopsy.

Homer law enforcement recorded this as the third suicide in the past two months. One in late September involved a 17-year-old teen. On Oct. 22, Homer police found a 49-year-old man dead on the Homer Spit Trail.

At the Anchor Point post, Alaska State Troopers reported two additional suspected suicides that occurred this fall.

In 2011, according to statistics kept by the Alaska State Troopers, there were three suicides and one attempted suicide on the Lower Kenai Peninsula. Six suicide deaths in a population of less than 20,000 is three times the rate of 12 suicides per 100,000 people in the United States. Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country at 22.6 suicides per 100,000 people, according to information provided by the Alaska Suicide Prevention Council.

Alaska had 1,389 suicides between 2001 and 2010 – an average of 139 deaths by suicide per year. At least one suicide occurred in 176 Alaskan communities between 2000 and 2009. In 2010, 79 percent of suicides in Alaska were by men and 21 percent were committed by women, according to the Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Suicide deaths consistently outnumber homicide deaths by a margin of three to two, according to the American Association of Suicidology.

More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have depression or another diagnosable, treatable mental or substance abuse disorder, according to American Association of Suicidology. If you or someone you know may be at risk, help and information are available at your local hospital or mental health clinic, or by phone from the Alaska Careline, 1-877-266-HELP (1-877-266-4357), and The National Suicide Prevention Helpline, 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

The bottom line of Alaska’s suicide prevention campaign is that there is help available for people when life seems its bleakest and the despair seems overwhelming. If someone reaches out to you for help even if it’s just to talk, don’t turn them away.

The signs that someone may be considering suicide are appearing depressed, withdrawing from family and friends, feeling hopeless, experiencing dramatic mood changes such as becoming suddenly happy or calm, losing interest in most activities and giving away prized possessions.

A version of the preceding report was first published at Homer News and is republished here with permission.