After seeing “The S Word” Jenny Smith was struck by how many people she’s known who died by suicide.
“There’s been quite a few,” Smith said. “There’s more than a handful.”
Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition offered a free screening Tuesday night of the documentary that collected suicide survivors’ stories from around the country and Smith, a Juneau resident who served in the Air Force, said it made her reflect on the prevalence of suicide as well as people’s aversion to seeking mental health help.
Smith said a scene in “The S Word” in which a college counselor said a survey revealed a majority of students would not judge a peer for seeking help but believed they would be judged if they sought help stood out and rang true to her experiences.
“I spent a long time in the military,” Smith said. “They always had mental health care available, but no one ever took advantage of it. It’s certainly ingrained in the American culture — pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
That mentality is something Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition is attempting to change by bringing conversations about mental wellness and suicide into public settings via events such as a monthly survivors game night and movie screenings.
“Our mission, our goal is to create connectedness in Juneau and make people feel belonging in their community,” said Jan Reece, outreach/training specialist for JSPC.
Before the movie, suicide prevention magnets, wristbands, tote bags and gun locks were given away.
The film featured the stories of a handful of people who have survived suicide attempts as well as family members who have lost loved ones to suicide. The survivors uniformly said they were glad to have survived.
“I think things like this are really helpful,” Reece said during a short, open conversation after the movie. “Just having it be out in the open more. Creating an acceptance of asking for help is important in our community.”
Sam and Gayle Trivette, who had a child who died by suicide and have been JSPC members since 2008, said normalizing conversations about wellness and raising the public profile of suicide is important because it is a significant cause of death in the U.S, especially in Alaska.
The national rate of suicide in the U.S. was 14 per 100,000 people in 2017, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Alaska’s suicide rate was 27.11 per 100,000 people in 2017 — the second highest in the country.
Nationally, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and on average there are 129 suicides per day. One Alaskan dies by suicide every two days, according to the foundation.
“The S-Word” pointed out that loss of life on the national scale is equivalent to a small plane of Americans crashing every single day.
“If one plane a day were going down, the United States would consider it an emergency,” Reece said. “Talking about it helps. Silence is a big issue.”
Need someone to talk to?
The Alaska Careline Crisis Intervention can be contacted by calling 1-877-266-4357 or by texting “4help” to 839863.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
The Crisis Text Line can be reached 24/7 by texting “Home” to 741741.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.