Murkowski Calls on HHS to Address Native Youth Suicide

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to fund a $1.2 million study designed to reduce the high rate of suicides among Alaska natives.
In a letter to the Secretary, Murkowski pointed to a study proposed by Commissioner Warren Zapol of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission that would examine the mental and behavioral health issues facing Alaska Native populations living in the Arctic.  Zapol’s study would be conducted by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences.
This new study would seek to determine the specific genes that contribute to major depressive disorders and alcohol abuse leading to targeted treatment options for Alaska Natives.
“According to the Indian Health Service, suicide rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives are 70 percent higher than the general United States Population,” Murkowski wrote. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native youth ages 10-24. Males are especially at risk and commit suicide at a rate five times higher than females.”
Murkowski’s letter comes in the wake of a May 16, 2009, article in the Anchorage Daily News that highlighted the tragic story of a 17-year-old girl from the community of Selawik, in the Northwest Arctic region of Alaska. The girl’s suicide triggered a string of suicide attempts within the community.
“Youth suicides devastate rural communities which are characterized by tightly knit extended families” Murkowski wrote. “The Maniilaq Association, the regional tribal health care provider for the Northwest Arctic, has reported that in 2008, for every suicide in their region, there were 13 suicide attempts.”
Murkowski added: “Suicide affects our Native communities in epidemic proportions and we must do all that we can to support our clinicians, communities and leaders to address the issue of youth suicide” she wrote in her letter to Sebelius. “We must bring the best science to Alaska Native communities.”
A copy of Senator Murkowski’s letter to Secretary Sebelius is attached.
To read the article from the May 16, 2009, edition of the Anchorage Daily News, please visit their website.