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ANTHC’s “Tell Your Heart Story” brings awareness to suicide prevention

September is National Suicide Awareness Prevention Month, and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) is encouraging residents of Alaska to participate in the Consortium’s ‘Tell Your Heart Story’ activities. Activities focus on self-care, improving overall mental health, and how to help others who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. 

Each week is dedicated to a topic on suicide prevention. Dana Diehl is Director of Wellness and Prevention for ANTHC. She said this month is about encouraging people to talk about their feelings.

“Telling your heart story really means feeling safe and comfortable and confident and talking about how you’re feeling. But also confident in reaching out to other people for support when you might need it.”

Participants began the month learning about the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The Lifeline offers 24/7 access to trained mental health professionals who can help those experiencing thoughts of suicide, a mental health or substance-use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.

Diehl said 988 is available to anyone who needs extra support. 

“It’s a resource that’s available statewide to any Alaskan. There are trained counselors on the other end that you can access 24/7, all day.”

ANTHC determines what activities to include during suicide prevention month based off researched practices. There are also prevention methods rooted in Alaska Native culture, said Diehl. 

“Being engaged in our subsistence activities, doing our dances, doing craft activities, things that make us feel connected to not only our culture, but our community and our people.”

This week, (Sep. 11-17) the consortium will focus on reaching out to caring connections. ANTHC said a caring connection could be a friend or family member, elder, counselor, or teacher. Caring connections provide support or guidance, listen without judgment, and can refer you to other resources. 

Next week, (Sep. 18-24) the consortium will focus on traditional activities that involve movement. Elders teach that participating in traditional activities can help people connect with the community, provide strength to cope with stress or anxiety, and help people grow resilient. 

The last activity of the month (Sep. 25-30) is participating in journaling or creating art. 

In Alaska, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death in 2021. Suicide can affect all ages of people, although the highest rates are among adults ages 25-34.

Jolene Firmin Telford is the Clinic Manager for ANTHC’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Clinic. She said all services provided by the Clinic are offered by telehealth, making it accessible for those living in remote villages in Alaska. 

“We have individual therapy services available. Right now, oftentimes, folks are able to schedule their first appointment within four weeks of their initial contact with us.”

ANTHC is committed to responding to electronic submissions within a business day. When they are able to connect with individuals, those seeking individual therapy only, receive their first individual therapy appointment with their provider within 4 weeks of that first phone call/contact. For some it is within the first week. Group services are available right away.

The ANTHC Behavioral Health and Wellness Clinic offers telehealth counseling, assessments, and referral support to adult Tribal beneficiaries anywhere in the state. A referral isn’t required to receive services from the Behavioral Health and Wellness Clinic, according to Telford.

Participants in the ‘Tell Your Heart Story’ campaign have the option to fill out a survey for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card. Winners must be an Alaska resident and will be selected at random. To tell YOUR heart story or take place in the Behavioral Health and Wellness Clinic, visit the ANTHC website or call (907) 729-2492. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call 988. 

Photo at top: Words of encouragement board. Photo courtesy of Shea Siegert of ANTHC

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