In Alaska, it is nearly impossible to escape the devastating impacts that the state’s high suicide rate has on families and communities. Last spring, Alaska’s Legislature responded to that troubling pattern by passing Senate Bill 137 — a decree that North Slope educators are working to not only meet, but surpass.
SB137 requires all Alaska certified teaching and administrative staff serving seventh to 12th graders to train in suicide awareness and prevention for at least two hours every year.
“We are not going to simply meet the minimum requirements,” said Peggy Cowan, North Slope Borough School District Superintendent, in a release. “The training should be meaningful and effective.”
In an effort to both meet the requirements of the bill and take a stronger stance against the devastating effects of suicide in rural Alaska, the district has teamed with the Arctic Slope Native Association for training.
ASNA — the regional non-profit health entity — is providing cost assistance and supplies associated with the training. The partnership is an effort to pool resources and skills to create the best possible prevention network against a pervasive and painful social issue.
“The rate of suicide in our region is unacceptable,” said Marie Carroll in a released statement. Carroll is the President and CEO of ASNA, which fully supports the legislation passed last spring. “We will do all we can in partnership with the school district in an effort to reverse the suicide trends on the North Slope.”
There are many methodologies and strategies available when it comes to suicide prevention techniques.
In recent years, ASNA has chosen to invest significantly in a method developed by a Canadian organization, one that works particularly well for small communities. It’s called Living Works and incorporated several evidence-based systems — including the safeTALK program and the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. (ASIST) ASNA has supported its own employees in becoming certified as ASIST trainers. In the past, they have helped both ASNA and school district employees become safeTALK trainers. This teamwork, already in place before SB137 passed, led them to expand to their current partnership.
Most recently, that includes an intensive two-day ASIST workshop for North Slope school counselors. Those same counselors were also certified as trainers for a peer program. This certification allows them to train young people 15 and older as suicide alert helpers. Within this safeTALK program, helpers learn to not miss, dismiss or avoid signs that signal suicide risk.
ASIST has been compared to life-saving first aid techniques like CPR and rescue breathing. It is intended to give a person the skills they might need to intervene in a life-threatening situation.
Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, every North Slope School District counselor will conduct three trainings in safeTALK methods — helping to recognize and take heed of warning signs. That training will be available to students 15 and older, members of all North Slope schools, as well as community members.
This means, at the very least, 24 safeTALK sessions will occur in North Slope communities through the fall of 2013. The district estimates about 500 people will be trained through this effort.
“Our community member will be speaking the same language,” Cowan said, “and will be more readily able to assist with suicide awareness and intervention.”