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Survey determines attempted suicide rate among Alaska teenagers exceeds national average

Posted: July 5, 2011 - 9:03pm

FAIRBANKS — A survey that looked at teenage suicide attempts in Alaska found the rate in the state was significantly higher than the national average as determined by similar studies.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that for a one-year period stretching over 2009-2010, 8.5 percent of teenage students in Alaska tried to kill themselves, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Tuesday.

However, few actually succeeded.

The rate among Alaska participants compared to 6.3 percent in similar surveys nationwide.

The Alaska survey said the state’s suicide rate was about 0.03 percent. That means that if Alaska had 100,000 high school-age students, about 29 would commit suicide annually, based on the most recent five-year average used to compare the state to others.

Alaska actually has about 40,000 high school-age students.

“The majority of students who attempt suicide don’t receive help,” said James Gallanos, program coordinator with the Alaska Division of Behavioral Health.

High schools were randomly selected to participate in the survey. Students answered questions that included, “During the last 12 months, how many times did you actually attempt suicide?”

About one in 12 high school students answered once or more.

The survey found that 14 percent of Alaska high school students considered suicide in a year’s period, 12 percent made plans, 8.5 percent made attempts and 3 percent said they required treatment from a doctor or nurse for an attempt resulting in an injury, poisoning or overdose.

The survey said 12 percent of teenage girls report having attempted suicide, compared to 5 percent of boys.

Part of the disparity between the percentage of teens who report attempts and the percentage of students who die arises because teens have a broad view of what is considered an attempt, according to experts.

“That number is based on someone’s definition of attempt, and we don’t know what that definition is,” said Paul Beals, the clinical supervisor and counselor at Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption.

The Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics says Alaska Natives make up almost 70 percent of teenage suicides in the state.

In Alaska, 1,300 students from 43 schools participated in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The foundation looks at dozens of indicators of child well-being, including economic status, health, safety, and risk factors, when assessing the status of children in the United States.

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