Story last updated at 12/24/2008 - 10:51 am
ANCHORAGE - Six people have killed themselves in communities in western Alaska this month, many of them teenagers.
The small community of Selawik, population 820, has seen two people die. Alaska State Troopers said more attempted to take their own lives in recent weeks. The other communities were Teller, Noatak, Kiana and Brevig Mission.
Alaska has a suicide rate that is nearly twice the national average. The state has consistently ranked at or near the top in the per capita suicide rate, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.
Last year, the state had 146 suicides, higher than its average of roughly 128 over the past decade, said James Gallanos, the Division of Behavioral Health's lead suicide prevention coordinator.
While suicide rates vary greatly by region around the state, Northwest Alaska is consistently the deadliest.
Norman Eck is superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, which lost three students in recent weeks, he said. A 42-year-old Selawik woman who committed suicide was the mother of another two students.
"I know of four other attempts where students were discovered soon enough to survive it. So this is scary," he said.
While officials in the region said winter can be particularly high-risk for suicide, University of Massachusetts professor Lisa Wexler, who studies suicide in Northwest Alaska, said statistics show no link between suicide rates and seasons.
Over the 10 years ending in 2006, the Nome census area, with 67 suicides, had the highest rate of suicide in the state with 73 per 100,000. With 50 suicides and a rate of 86 per 100,000, the Northwest arctic census area was second highest.