A Native village on Alaska's western coast is reeling from back-to-back suicides of three young adults—with each subsequent death influenced by the preceding one. The first death occurred Sept. 24 with the suicide of a 26-year-old man. Alaska State Troopers say the second death occurred Oct. 2 and involved a 24-year-old man who was despondent over his friend's suicide. Two days later, a 20-year-old woman reportedly distraught over the 24-year-old's death died in an apparent suicide. A regional tribal health organization is sending an Alaska Native suicide-response-and-prevention team to Hooper Bay, which is in a region of Alaska with disproportionately steep rates of suicide, next week in what essentially will be a community debriefing.
The team members speak Yup'ik, and will focus on traditional healing. They will be joined by mental health professionals from different Alaska organizations responding en masse to the cluster of suicides. In Hooper Bay, 530 miles west of Anchorage, everybody knows everybody and many people are related. There are worries that more tragedies could occur, village Mayor Joseph Bell said by telephone Friday. He said he himself is related to the young people who died in some way or other. Other response teams representing a variety of tribal groups are planning to travel to Hooper Bay as well, said Christopher Byrnes, emergency services director at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., which is sending the Alaska Native team as well as other mental-health experts. (Read more suicide stories.)