Rash of suicides prompts Ketchikan meeting

Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009

KETCHIKAN - A rash of suicides in Ketchikan has prompted city health officials to conduct a town hall meeting to raise awareness about suicide prevention.

Gateway Center for Human Services psychologist Katheryn Pacey told the 135 people who attended the meeting Tuesday night that Ketchikan recently experienced what she called a "cluster of suicides."

"We need to move into action," she said.

Volunteers are being sought for five committees addressing different aspects of suicide prevention, said Gateway Advisory Board Chairwoman Nancy Tietje.

The five areas are children and teens who need support; training; mental health; public awareness and creation of a Web page; and people who are at high risk of committing suicide. Each committee will consist of 10 people.

Most of the 50-minute meeting was dedicated to questions and answers. When asked about the cluster of suicides, Pacey said even though there's been about one suicide a month recently, other suicides are not that easy to detect.

She said some people drink themselves to death, others stop taking necessary medications.

Statistics for attempted suicides aren't kept, but she said there could be three or four of those monthly.

In addition to attempted suicides that medical personnel might see at the local hospital, Pacey said counselors learn of additional attempts in their offices.

Up to 80 percent of people who have killed themselves told someone beforehand, she said.

"That's a lot of people that knew," she said. "So just really stop and think. Really, really listen."

It's also important, she said, to talk to children in a compassionate way.

"Your explanation should be clear and direct," she said. "Try not to over explain. It's all right to let your child come to you with questions. It's all right to answer those questions. ... You can talk about better ways than suicide to handle problems."

Parents can't always help their child feel better, she said. Instead, she said the best thing might be to listen and provide a shoulder to lean on.

Gateway also planned to host a grief-counseling meeting Thursday night, when the center would provide counselors for anyone who wants the service.

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