Suicide prevention: it’s up to the people, expert says

Community-based prevention need not be expensive


People – not money – make or break successful suicide prevention programs in communities where suicides occur, says a visiting social worker from Alaska.

Susan Soule of Alaska’s department of health and social services shared that observation last week in Iqaluit, at a meeting organized by the Government of Nunavut (GN).

“Money helps, but it’s not the key. People are the key,” Soule said.

Soule’s comments could be good news to the cash-strapped GN, as an internal working group starts an informal review of the government’s suicide prevention efforts.

Alaska has decentralized its suicide prevention efforts, and communities now play a large role.

“Basic services should be provided by the State,” Soule said. But communities and their residents can and should take responsibility for suicide prevention, she says.

Alaska’s suicide statistics are almost as bad as Nunavut’s – they are the highest in the U.S. and several times the national average.

Alaska’s suicide prevention plan, which was recently tabled, aims to reduce suicide through education and working with communities.

“Each community needs to develop its own suicide prevention plan that is tailored to meet local needs and built on local strengths,” says the draft plan.

Public awareness of gun safety, and partnerships with other communities are among the low-cost methods outlined in this plan. Communities in Alaska generally get about $15,000 U.S. a year to run their own locally-based suicide prevention activities.

“Community suicide programs bring youth and elders together,” Soule said.

Communities with strong traditions and sober leadership seem to have the best results, but Soule said it’s almost impossible to evaluate success on what statistics say – because the raw number of suicides are so few per community.

To measure success, she recommends looking at those communities where suicide isn’t a problem to see why.

Soule was in Nunavut, visiting Clyde River, Resolute and Igloolik, to help the GN evaluate the success of the North Baffin Personal Initiative project, which is run by the non-profit Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River.

Ilisaqsivik’s program is part of a strategy to bring the North Baffin region’s current suicide rate of 133.5 per 100,000 people down to Nunavut’s rate of 74 per 100,000, or even to the Canadian national average of 20 per 100,000.

This program is also based on building and improving connections between people – involving the communities of Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Grise Fiord, Resolute Bay, Igloolik and Hall Beach – through local counselling efforts and group activities such as winter gatherings and summer youth camps.

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