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Alaska Still has High Suicide Rate

Statewide Suicide Prevention Council
Alaska Statewide Suicide Prevention Council

Preliminary data shows Alaska's suicide rate remaining high, but steady, and the unintentional overdose rate continuing an upward trend. It's too soon to say how the pandemic has affected the numbers.

The state Section of Epidemiology published preliminary data last week showing that Alaska’s suicide rate hasn’t gone up in 2020, though unintentional drug overdoses are continuing an upward trend from previous years. 

Alaska’s suicide rate remains among the highest in the country — around 30 deaths per 100,000 people. It’s the leading cause of death among Alaska youth over the age of 15. Beverly Schoonover, director of the statewide Suicide Prevention Council, says this has been an issue long before COVID-19 hit.


“Last year, both attempts, ideation and completions were much higher than we want to see. This has been an ongoing problem, you know, and it's not just the pandemic that's contributing to that.”

Schoonover says issues like economic inequity and childhood trauma have largely driven Alaska’s high suicide rates. Officials are still compiling data to see if the pandemic has had an impact on the numbers this year, but anecdotally, she says it has definitely taken a toll on mental health.


“What we have heard from many people and from many communities is that, you know, there's increased anxiety, increased depression for kids, for adults.”

She says people with existing mental health concerns have seen those exacerbated, and there are also reports that people who have never had serious concerns are developing anxiety or depression and seeking help.

Experts aren’t sure what’s causing the increase in overdose deaths. Schoonover says local police are reporting an increase of fentanyl, a highly potent opioid in Alaska’s illegal drug market, which could be to blame. The department expects to have more information after all the 2020 data is compiled.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, the Alaska Careline is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The number is 1-877-266-HELP.

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.