Empire Editorial: Talking about suicide is difficult, but we must

  • Sunday, October 25, 2015 1:01am
  • Opinion

His name was Anthony Choquette.

On Oct. 17, the last day of the Alaska Federation of Natives, he committed suicide in about as public a manner as is possible in Alaska: He jumped from the third floor of Anchorage’s Dena’ina Center, which was hosting the AFN conference.

Choquette’s death is a tragedy. Unfortunately, so is the reaction to it.

In the days after the AFN conference, we’ve read ample criticism of the Alaska Dispatch News for reporting on Choquette’s death. We’ve seen Facebook comments and letters criticizing the paper for writing about his life and attempting to answer the simple question of why a man would die in such a manner.

This type of talk is quite literally a grave problem.

Ignored problems are not fixed. A wound must be cleaned if it is to heal properly.

We must discuss suicide publicly and frequently, and we must do so now.

Suicide is a plague, and it is particularly virulent in Alaska. In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the same organization fighting maladies like ebola — released a report outlining the scope of this plague: Alaska Native and American Indian men and women are more than twice as likely than the U.S. average to commit suicide. Alaska has the second-highest suicide rate in the nation.

These statistics are shocking, but they are cold. They do not put faces or names to the figures.

If we tell you that Anthony Choquette was 49 years old, that he’d lived in Alaska all his life, that he’d been a hardworking commercial fisherman in Sand Point, that he liked to be called “Dean,” his middle name, that he once gave a woman sunglasses when she didn’t have them — you start to understand who he was and why his death matters.

This is true for other problems as well. In Juneau, the issue of late has been heroin and the overdoses that have killed many of the capital city’s young men and women. We’ve heard the cries that “Something Must Be Done,” but when the Empire attempted to speak to the families of the dead, few spoke up.

All people matter, and that is why their deaths are a tragedy. They rob us of good people.

It isn’t easy for families to open up and explain why their brother, son, father or uncle took his life. It’s difficult for parents to explain why their daughter is dead. It’s perfectly understandable that the brothers, sisters and parents of the dead may not want to talk.

But it must be done. We must make Alaskans understand that this not only has happened, it will continue to happen unless we do something about it. Not the man next door, not the woman down the street — all of us.

If you are the one who sits at home and vomits criticism from your Facebook page, the suicide isn’t the problem: You are.

More in Opinion

Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Kate Troll (Courtesy Photo / Kate Troll)
Opinion: The real ‘at last!’ on climate change

In Alaska, the Inflation Reduction Act offers come game-changing features.

Opinion: Let’s keep the mandatory real property disclosure ordinance

It will better ensure fair, accurate and efficient property tax assessments and collections.

(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: Playing the old-timer card

Is the Empire really only interested in the problems faced by small communities?

Heavy metals run out of the Tulsequah Chief mine opening and down to holding ponds next to the Tulsequah River Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file)
Opinion: Officials must keep up pressure to clean up BC mine

In March 2017 I had a Commentary published Pacific Fishing Magazine imploring… Continue reading

Former Gov. Bill Walker, right, and his running mate former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Heidi Drygas, speak to Juneauites gathered for a fundraiser at a private home in Juneau on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Why I’m voting for Walker

Walker is the only candidate with the potential to govern effectively for all Alaskans.

Opinion: The time has come to end Big Tech’s rule

The internet has opened doors and pathways to more than we could… Continue reading

Nick Begich III campaign materials sit on tables ahead of a May 16 GOP debate held in Juneau. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Nick Begich is who Alaska and America need now

It is in Alaska’s best interest to elect a member of the Republican party.

Opinion: If you see something, say something

Together we can fight to preserve this pristine place we live.

This photo shows the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: I’m a longtime educator, and I’m supporting Walker/Drygas

The issues our state faces are significant with regard to education.

Opinion: Congress could keep health insurance costs from rising, but it has to act fast

Some argue that the federal government paid out far too much money… Continue reading

Opinion: A conversation about mental health

All in all, we want you to know that you are not alone.