USAFV hosts annual community dinner for suicide prevention and awareness
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence will be holding its annual Make-A-Difference Dinner to acknowledge those affected by suicide, raise awareness and connect individuals to services.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the CDC. It was responsible for over 48,000 deaths in 2021.
KUCB’s Sofia Stuart-Rasi sat down with USAFV’s M. Lynn Crane and APIA’s Heidi Lucking about the free dinner on Friday, Sept. 29, that's open to all ages.
This interview originally aired on KUCB on Sept. 14, 2023. It has been edited for length and clarity.
SOFIA STUART-RASI: September is suicide prevention and awareness month, what resources are there for folks in Unalaska and throughout the region?
HEIDI LUCKING: Resource-wise locally, you have APIA — who is established out here, we have behavioral health and also have our clinic.
I always suggest USAFV as well — they have a text line and also a call line. But I think during work hours, people can just walk in and try to talk to someone.
I also always say if it's an emergency, call 911. I think that's important to just put out there. We do have people that walk into the police station, and the police can also get in touch with the appropriate care, if they need behavioral health or if they need USAFV — they'll get in touch with people, as well.
M. LYNN CRANE: USAFV has a 24-hour crisis line, which is 907-581-1500. People can just come to the office/shelter during business hours — we ask people to call whenever possible ahead of time just because of confidentiality concerns. But we know that's not always possible. The crisis line number I just gave is available 24 hours. We also have a Crisis Text Line that's available 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, and that's 907-359-1500.
I think one thing people think of when they think of USAFV is domestic violence, sexual assault, and interpersonal violence. That is our main mission, however, we understand that a lot of these issues, whether it be substance abuse, mental health, financial crisis, violence in the home, homelessness or near homelessness, all of these things are interconnected. We encourage people to call us for whatever is going on and if we are not in a position to help, or we aren't qualified to help, we'll try to help them access the best available resources that we know about.
So, just because someone calls the USAFV crisis line doesn't mean that they have violence in their home or that they have been assaulted. It just might mean that they need somebody to talk to or that they just need to find out about how to apply for food stamps or where to go to get them. We get calls for all kinds of things — they might need assistance with food — which we think helps to prevent violence if you take away the stress of food insecurity. USAFV is kind of a catch-all and we encourage people to call.
LUCKING: Well said. APIA also has an after-hours line that people can call and talk to a trained professional. And they'll also send the referral to us here locally if it was a local call. We sometimes get calls from Anchorage and other areas of the state as well. That number is gonna be 844-375-2742. And exactly what Lynn said, we will tend to whatever it is that people bring to us and make sure that people get in touch with the correct resources and appropriate care for them.
STUART-RASI: So there are several local resources for folks. Are they free? Or is there a cost to them?
CRANE: USAFV services are always free. At one point we were required to have a fee schedule for people who stayed in the shelter but we never used it. We have had it written, but we never actually implemented it and that's been eliminated — our services are always free. And I think Heidi can talk about the sliding scale at the clinic and APIA services.
LUCKING: Yeah, so just make a phone call — of course, we're not gonna bill anyone for that. I don't think we even collect information to bill anyone for that. If you just need to make a call and see what's out there and get in to talk to somebody to see what's available, we're always welcome to meet with people. And talk about things like: Okay, here's what information you've given me, here's what we have to offer, and how we can work within your budget or your certain circumstances. We try to tailor it to be the best fit for each individual that we serve.
Statewide resources: 988, is a nationally recognized number, and can also be used as a crisis line here. I believe there are trained professionals on the other end of the line who get in touch with local resources if you let them know where you are. You can also call anonymously — so that's pretty cool. There's also the Alaska care line: 877-266-4357, which is also another crisis line that we have here statewide that can offer the same services.
STUART-RASI: Do you both have any advice for people who might be hesitant or afraid to use these resources when they are in need?
CRANE: I think more and more these days, professionals like Heidi and medical professionals, they're kind of approaching behavioral health and mental health as a part of a holistic approach to care, like your medical, your behavioral health, your mental health is connected to your physical health and vice versa. So, mental health is just health.
And if you had something — if you had a part of your body that was bleeding and giving you pain all the time, hopefully, you would reach out to get some care to help deal with the pain and find out if there was a way to alleviate that in some way, it's the same with mental health. Mental health is just health.
There is professional help available. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is to ask for help.
I know that one thing APIA is working hard on, and other folks that are in the field, is to destigmatize talking about mental health, talking about depression, talking about anxiety, talking about OCD, talking about postpartum — all of these things that I think for a long time, we got messages were somehow shameful. But it's not shameful to catch the flu or to have kidney failure or anything like that. So why should mental health stuff be shameful? It's not, it's not. And it's okay to ask for help. You're not alone.
I know that APIA is very guarded with confidentiality, and they take care of the folks that they serve. USAFV is also bound by confidentiality within very narrow exceptions.
We just encourage people to take risks and know that it's worth it to ask for help.
LUCKING: I would like to add to that. We're just people too — I feel like I walk around town, and I have counselors stamped across my forehead, and either people talk to me, or they avoid me. But we're just people too and we've had our own life experiences and struggles, and we can relate to people. And that caters to the community that we serve and is a way that we can help you the most, or find the person that can relate with you the most to help you the most. That's what we want to aim for is that connection.
So with the reduction of stigma that I would hope would happen in the community, in Unalaska … and around the world. I hope that people feel like they can approach us and connect with us and be able to talk to us and get to know us. Because that's the most powerful tool — creating these relationships with people. So, it would be cool if people would just be like, Oh, that's Heidi, she's a community member and a counselor because we're human first.
CRANE: We know that there are groups that face certain barriers to accessing resources and it can be hard for someone to see someone who looks like me, or someone who looks like Heidi, and think that we're going to be able to understand what they're going through. If someone's a member of the LGBTQ community or someone is a veteran or someone is a person of color, or someone is dealing with a medical disability or autism or something like that maybe we don't know exactly what they're going through. But if someone can't find a good fit locally with a counselor, I know that APIA can facilitate people seeking some online assistance that might resonate more with them.
But also, even though there are differences in the barriers and challenges that people face based on their identities, there are some universal things. We are all human and that it is okay to ask for help.
LUCKING: Yeah, I would encourage people to just say hi to us, and get familiar with us, if they're scared to approach services right away. Because it’ll make a difference, it will.
STUART-RASI: Speaking of making a difference, USAFV is holding their Make a Difference dinner for suicide prevention and awareness later this month … It's exactly on Friday, Sept. 29. What can you tell us about the dinner?
CRANE: The Make a Difference dinner for suicide prevention and awareness, we started in 2010, in response to some local losses.
We started with a panel of people sitting at the front of the room, and there was somebody from the clinic and there was somebody from the school somebody from clergy and somebody from behavioral health, somebody from USAF and people could submit questions, and it was all very dry and people came, but it wasn't very energetic, or I don't know how much people got out of it.
Although we were trying it a few years ago, we changed it up a little bit.
We have different tables set around the small gym at the high school with different sorts of activities, or educational little snippets. People can visit different tables, and they get their cards punched. And if they visit a certain number of tables — not only do they get the exposure to all of those things, those different facets of mental health and information about local resources — but they also get entered into a drawing to win some pretty cool door prizes.
We think it's important because we know that suicide rates in this country have gone back up, they went down during COVID. But they've gone back up again. I think last year, the most recent stat I could find was that in 2021, more than 48,000 people died by suicide in the US.
This dinner is a chance for us to work closely with our community partners like APIA, the school, the clinic, the Qawalangin tribe, and some other organizations that we're very excited to work with. It’s sort of a public showing of our community safety net and lets people know that yes, there are people in this community who care about this — that think behavioral health is important. They want you to know about the available resources, and that it's okay to ask for help and to have difficult conversations.
It's hard to talk about certain things. We even have a table that's titled Difficult Conversations. It's the hardest table, I think, but it's always really interesting to work at that table.
We all need help sometimes. The strongest thing you can do is to ask for help when you need it — some people care. And the dinner is also delicious. And it's free.
STUART-RASI: Who can attend?
CRANE: It's open to all ages. We will open the doors to the public from 6:00 p.m. and it goes on until 8 p.m. We have a lot of community partners APA, the clinic, the school district, PCR, the tribe, the Grand Hotel, the interagency cooperative group, and even some other community partners that are new this year.
I would just encourage anybody to come, you'll enjoy it. You'll get some good food and you'll learn something that will make your life better and will maybe help you make someone else's life better when you have a chance.
STUART-RASI: Do they need to RSVP?
CRANE: Nope. If we run out of food, we'll get some pizza but I think we'll be okay — I have a habit of getting way too much. We'll have to-go boxes too.
STUART-RASI: What's for dinner?
CRANE: It'll be mostly vegetarian lasagna from the Grand, which is delicious. We'll also have some charcuterie, brownies, and a cake — stuff like that. And of course, beverages.
STUART-RASI: Hearing how you both were talking about suicide prevention and awareness and then having this dinner as kind of like a representation of the community being supportive?
CRANE: I don't want to speak for Heidi. But I think, from my perspective, it's a chance for us to interact with the community around some difficult stuff, and maybe get some education out there about how all of these things are interconnected.
We have a table about simple pleasures and there'll be stuff that is accessible and affordable for most people — you know, journals, tea, dark chocolate, birding guides, trail guides, things like that, that don't cost a lot of money that can make a difference.
I mean, I hate it when people say, well, you'd feel better if you just exercised for an hour and a half a day. Well, that's not what I'm talking about. I’m talking about small things that are accessible to almost everyone — that are affordable and that can help a little bit.
There's another table about food and mood. So you can learn about how nutrition can maybe make a difference.
There are all of these things to consider when you're talking about your mental health and your well-being — and that it's important and it matters.
When you're facing difficult times, you're not alone and other people go through it. You know everyone is unique, but some of those struggles aren't unique. There's help available — we have excellent professionals. We try to have a safety net that is here for everyone in the community. So just a chance to get that message out there.
I love how many young people show up to this dinner and how they stay – that's one thing I noticed last year, which was the first one we had in person since before COVID. So it'd been almost three years. And people came and they stayed and they visited and they went to the tables, and they stood around and groups talking and mixed and learned. It was just so gratifying to see that mix of ages and people from all parts of the community — community leaders were there too, which I think is meaningful to young people. They see that this matters, and it's important and that it's okay to talk about this stuff. It's okay to talk about hard stuff. It's still hard. It's hard for me. And I've been doing this for many, many years, but it's okay to talk about it.
LUCKING: Yeah, I think that's important. Especially whenever someone's going through a really difficult time, your mind kind of wants to tap out and blank on those sorts of things. I think this would be a wonderful opportunity for so many people who are having a really hard time right now. To just be reminded of those small things and get a little bit of that connection. See some people and maybe have a hug — whatever people need.
When so many different organizations come together to do something like this, what a beautiful thing to see in our community, right? It’s a great place to share any other ideas or concerns with those organizations so that we can continue to band together and meet the needs of our people — but we need to hear a voice from our people as well. So, whatever the reason for coming, if it's to seek out connection, if it's to seek out those little things you've forgotten about that you can still do to feel better, or if it's to share your voice and ask a thousand questions, this is the place to do it.
If you or someone you know is in an emotional crisis on the island: call USAFV at (907) 581-1500 or text 907-359-1500 or call APIA at 1-844-375-2743. You can call and text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing or texting 988 and they will link you to someone in Alaska.