Editor’s note: This article includes references to suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255.
As the community clambers its way back from the worst of the pandemic, the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition is seeking to help Juneau to build a more resilient community.
The organization, part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness- Juneau is looking to increase its offerings for school-age children, even as it seeks to train more people through peer support programs and start a long-term community needs assessment for Juneau’s mental health support.
“Statistics report that 90% of suicide is linked with a mental health condition, which is why we promote mental health. It’s one component of many things,” said Tina DeAsis-Samaniego, a program coordinator with JSPC, in an interview. “What does it take for someone to consider suicide, to come to that point, that sense of hopelessness?”
Much of the work JPSC is doing is to reach out to groups to help teach and strengthen them, as well as to help train people to be able to support their own groups within the community.
“Groups that have been marginalized are at a higher risk. We focus on equity,” said DeAsis-Samaniego. “We don’t care who you are if we’re promoting mental health. We’re a community coalition.”
Back to school
With the return of students to school, JSPC is seeking to reach as many students as possible with programs and clubs to help promote resilience in students.
“Historically, the Signs of Suicide presentation has been offered to all students at (Thunder Mountain High School) and (Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé),” said Virginia Plett, a youth program coordinator for NAMI-Juneau. “It’s going to be available for the middle schools to share for their students.”
JSPC is also looking to bring in new programs. Social Emotional Health Education will focus on talking about emotional issues with small groups of students while Positive Protective Factors will teach students how to reinforce positive sources of reinforcement in their life, Plett said.
“It’s to help students recognize the different signs and get help for themselves or their friends,” DeAsis-Samaniego said. “This training is available to the public without charge and it is and we can come to your organization. We’re in the schools. We have youth programming.”
JSPC is also seeking to restart its Sources of Strength program in JDHS, a club that students to work with what gives them resilience, Plett said.
“The goal would be for all Juneau public school children to take part in these presentations,” Plett said.
JSPC also offers peer support training, teaching members of groups within Juneau, such as the LGBTQ+ community, veterans or Alaska Native groups, to help others of their community on the path of improving mental health or recovering from substance use
“When we build our programming, inclusivity, we talk about hearing the voices of the people that have lived it,” DeAsis-Samaniego. “If you’re going to build a Native curriculum, how are you going to do it without talking to Native people?”
Anyone in recovery from substance use or mental conditions can get certified as a peer support specialist, Plett said.
“I want to talk with someone that understands that and hopefully has some history to understand that,” DeAsis-Samaniego said. “I don’t want to be judged. I want someone who understands enough to have some compassion, and not from a textbook.”
The training helps to build communities that promote their own resilience, an asset in Juneau, where the geography creates some unique challenges for getting access to mental healthcare and support, said Charity Anderson, a JSPC program associate. Peer support training can help to fill some of those needs, Anderson said.
Community needs assessment
There are many barriers to getting the support someone may need, from healthcare coverage to sheer availability, Anderson said.
“There’s not a one-size-fits all for mental health,” Anderson said. “The lack of training or schooling here in Juneau. To be a nurse or mental health provider, you typically have to go out of town.”
JSPC is in the very early stages of a community needs assessment for Juneau, DeAsis-Samaniego said.
“We’re developing some of our tools,” DeAsis-Samaniego said. “And then we’ll have some interviews and other surveys to do.”
Mental health is pervasive and connected to everything we do in our lives, just as our physical health affects our well-being, DeAsis-Samaniego said.
“Mental health is not just in a clinic. It’s everywhere,” DeAsis-Samaniego said. “It should be in our schools. It should be in our families.”
JSPC will be holding a number of events for Suicide Prevention Month in September, with a schedule to be released soon on their social media.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.