Alaska Has Had More Deaths By Suicide Than You Realize

Firearm-related mortality rates are on the rise across the U.S., according to The Washington Post. In 2020, more people died from gun-related injury than any other time on record, as Pew Research relates. In 2019, though, more than half of all gun deaths in America were suicide, as UC Davis Health goes on to note. While firearm-related mortality shot up 35% in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in that same time frame, gun-related suicide rates, though still higher than murder rates with firearms, remained steady. Those numbers did increase, though, among certain populations, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. That sad fact is especially true among non-white ethnic minority groups in the U.S., the economically underprivileged, and current and former members of the U.S. military, per the Boston University (BU) School of Public Health

One area of the country where suicide rates per capita have long been high is Alaska. Between the year 2000 and 2009, in fact, an average of 136 Alaskan deaths per year were from suicide, for the highest per capita rate in the country (via Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS)). As the graph below illustrates, suicide rates in that remote northern state shot up markedly in spring 2020 and, after dipping around the new year, rose once more in spring and summer 2022. Here's a look at what might contribute to this disturbing trend, and what officials and healthcare professionals in the state have done to address the issue. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Alaska has the second worst suicide rate per capita in the U.S.

At a distressing rate of nearly 29 suicide deaths per 100,000 residents, Alaska reached the dubious distinction of the second-highest number of suicide deaths per capita in 2022, second only to Wyoming and just ahead of Montana, according to World Population Review. As the Boston University (BU) School of Public Health goes on to note, accurate data on suicide rates can be difficult to gather because true intent is hard to ascertain. Not everyone who dies from a suspected suicide leaves a note. For this reason, the true reflection of the suicide issue in states like Alaska could be worse. 

Factors that contribute to an individual's decision to end their life are complex. One strata of society where suicide deaths have increased is among active and former military personnel. On that note, in 2019 Alaska had the third most active-duty service members, per data from Brown University. According to Mental Health America, Alaska ranked near the bottom among U.S. states and the District of Columbia in terms of mental healthcare. In 2019, the U.S. Army performed a study at Alaska's Fort Wainwright to help combat the suicide issue among service personnel, according to 2022 reporting from Anchorage Daily News (ADN). What that study found was "isolation, stigma, limited resources, poor coping skills, alcohol use, and poor quality of life" were all issues. To save lives, the Army has introduced several initiatives, such as additional mental health professionals and the freedom for service members, when offered Alaska, to decline the post, as ADN also notes.