UAF research hub seeks to help Alaska communities stop suicides

June 13, 2017

Leona Long
(907) 474-5086

University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers have received a $4.25 million federal grant to help Alaska Native communities use the most effective ways of preventing suicides.

The UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, Center for Alaska Native Health Research and College of Rural and Community Development received the five-year grant. It was one of three awarded nationwide by the National Institutes of Health.

UAF will use the grant to establish the Alaska Native Collaborative Hub for Research Resilience. The hub will help communities adopt culturally relevant strategies to prevent suicides.

“The answers to our staggering statewide suicide rate are in our communities and Alaska Native cultural values,” said Stacy Rasmus, one of the project's principal investigators and a research associate professor at IAB. “By collaborating with tribal organizations and local practitioners, we will find out what strategies are working and practical ways communities are solving one of Alaska’s most heartbreaking problems.”

The hub's principal researchers also include James Allen from the University of Minnesota Medical School and Lisa M. Wexler from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The project builds on their decades of experience working with tribal communities and researching the effectiveness of community and culturally based solutions for suicide prevention.

The researchers, tribal organizations and mental health practitioners will identify the community-level factors that most effectively reduce risk for suicide. The data will be used to create the Alaska Community Resilience Mapping Tool, which will offer practical, user-friendly and scientifically proven suggestions.

CRCD, which oversees UAF’s five rural community campuses, will house the hub. CRCD is a production partner in the suicide-prevention documentary "We Breathe Again," which PBS stations will broadcast nationally Sept. 26 as part of the "America ReFramed" series. The 56-minute documentary follows four Alaska Native people as they confront the impacts of suicide in their lives and communities.

“A cultural renaissance is rebuilding Alaska Native cultural pride and helping to heal our state’s most challenging social issue, suicide, which disproportionately affects our people,” said Evon Peter, UAF vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education, and a producer for the documentary. “Connecting to culture and community has been proven to play a crucial role in resilience among indigenous people. The Alaska Native Collaborative Hub for Research Resilience will help Alaskans access the strategies and tools that can help increase resilience and well-being.”

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Stacy Rasmus, 907-474-7352; Izzy Martinez, assistant to the vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education, 907-474-5860.


GRANT INFORMATION: The project is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health, award number U19MH113138.