Alaska Black Caucus bringing awareness to suicide among Black veterans in Alaska

National statistics indicate that Black veterans are less likely to seek mental health care than counterparts from other racial or social groups.
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 10:28 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A community conversation hosted by the Alaska Black Caucus discussed barriers that play into Americans not receiving mental health care.

Last September, the 2022 National Veterans Suicide Prevention Annual Report was released. Critical findings from the report showed there were 6,146 veteran suicides in 2020 — which is an average of 16.8 suicides per day.

On a positive note, there were 343 fewer veteran suicides in 2020 when compared to 2019.

To draw attention to the issue of suicide among veterans, the Alaska Black Caucus discussed mental health issues among Black veterans in one of its weekly community conversations.

Area Director for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Alaska’s Dustin Morris said collaboration is key to reduction of both suicide and the stigma surrounding it.

“There are groups that are disproportionably affected by suicide, and more can be done to bring awareness to that, and also some collaboration can be taking place to help reduce stigmas to identify paths to resources that are very much needed, not just across the nation but specifically in our state,” Morris said.

According to the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, Black adults living below the poverty line are more than twice as likely to report severe psychological distress than those who live above the poverty line. The hotline also says that only 1 in 3 Black adults who need mental health care receive it.

“For me, in my work and what I do, I attempt to engage communities, engage stakeholders from a perspective of ‘I understand, I recognize and how can I help bridge this gap?” licensed counselor Monique Andrews said.

While the lack of affordable resources plays a part in keeping members of the Black community from receiving mental health help, there is a stigma among the community that is keeping them from even trying to seek out mental health.

During the community conversation hosted by the Alaska Black Caucus, some panelists also hinted at another barrier that affects why Black Americans do not always receive necessary mental health care.

”I know personally that you know, especially if you grew up like I did, there is definitely a stigma that is attached to counseling,” business owner and veteran Rafael Moore said. “But I think that the stigma should be not going to counseling, not trying to make things better for yourself.”

Organizations such as the national 988 hotline and local chapters of the Wounded Warrior Project work with healthcare professionals and other outreach programs to help create a safe haven where people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts can call in to receive support and find resources.

“It takes a lot of courage when the person makes that initial, ‘I need help. I’m ready to talk to someone,’” Veteran’s Affairs Alaska’s Mia Carson said. “And sometimes, when you’re ready, if somebody else isn’t right there ready to go with that person and stay on that rhythm, it’s really easy for that person to pull away.”