The holiday season is now upon us. Christmas lights blaze on house and tree with twinkles of red, green and ice blue. Snowmen and Santas pop up on nearly every block. Wreaths and ribbons adorn doors with festive color and texture. Christmas trees are everywhere. Even a Menorah or two appear around the Valley. This is the time when “peace on earth and good will toward all men,” “merry Christmas” and “happy holidays” are some of the buzzwords of the season.
Yet despite of all this holiday cheer and good will, there is something dark lurking in the background. I’m not going to bore you with mounds of statistics save one. According my research into this sad subject, Alaska is No. 1 of all the states when it comes to suicide. (Two of the sources I used were CBS News and The National Institute of Mental Health.) That is a very sad fact. Alaska should be No. 1 in education, innovation and other positive subjects. I would love to see this sad number to drop all together from the roster.
This time of year, suicide rates jump, or at least so I thought. But while doing research on this subject I found a surprising fact. The suicide rate jumps in the spring, not the winter months. When I began writing this, I believed it was the opposite. Turns out it was a myth, according to a 2004 news release by the Alaska Injury Prevention Center.
Yet no matter the time of year, Alaska still holds the record high per capita for self-inflicted deaths in this country. It must be confronted, head on.
The factors of holiday stress, depression, loneliness, darkness with shortened days, alcohol and drugs — to name just a few — still play a part, just not as much as I originally thought. It remains a very serious health issue that affects far more than the person attempting to take his or her life. It can devastate entire families. There is help out there and ways to tell if someone is going to make the attempt to bring it all to a tragic end. At the end of my column I will list some contact numbers and websites for anyone to use to help this horrible tide. The holiday season and suicide make a poor mix. It still lurks in the background. Some things should never go together, and these are two of them.
Perhaps I should list some of the warning signs of someone thinking about making this worst of decisions from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
1. Talking about wanting to die or killing themselves.
2. Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as going online or to buy a gun.
3. Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
4. Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
5. Talking about being a burden to others.
6. Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
7. Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
8. Sleeping to little or too much.
9. Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
10. Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
11. Displaying extreme mood swings.
This affects everyone here, native people of this state most of all and veterans as well. This puts someone like myself at a high risk for suicide. Whether civilian, native or veteran, male or female, Alaskans are a target for the scourge of suicide. If you know of someone who has been showing the warning signs listed here (it may be even yourself), then please take action and call the number I am listing here or at any one of the websites. To do nothing could be a major mistake, a regret that will haunt anyone for a lifetime.
Life is a precious gift. No mater the season or the reason, suicide should be removed permanently from the mix. Is it easier said than done? Yes, no doubt about that. We have to start somewhere. I hope that list is a fine place to begin.
Here are some resources to help:
• National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Veterans Suicide Hotline — (800) 273-8255
Wasilla resident Daniel D. Grota retired from the U.S. Army after more than 21 years of service.