In 2008 a Juneau School District Psychologist, Brendan Kiernan, applied for a grant from the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Behavioral Health to fund implementation of a suicide prevention curriculum known as “Signs of Suicide” or SOS at all district high schools. Recognizing the need to ensure a continuity of services to students identified as at risk, as well as the importance of community-wide communication to address the problem of suicide in a comprehensive way, Brendan formed a community-level advisory group consisting of representatives from local agencies and concerned Juneau residents. This group became known as The Juneau Community Suicide Prevention Task Force.
Over the next three years, the Task Force successfully implemented the SOS curriculum in all Juneau high schools, began presenting a version of the curriculum to middle school students, developed suicide prevention brochures targeting specific at-risk groups, organized Suicide Gatekeeper and other trainings for agency support staff, developed www.juneausuicideprevention.org and www.juneaumentalhealth.org as online repositories of local resources, and developed a community-base suicide intervention curriculum known as Understanding Suicide: Building Intervention Skills.
In the Summer of 2011, Juneau Youth Services assumed responsibility for managing our state grant. We were able to add two behavioral health specialists to work within the middle schools and high schools to identify and assist high-risk students and provide training to school personnel. We also expanded our efforts to address “postvention” which includes supporting families and community members who are impacted by a completed suicide, and helping to mitigate the risk of further suicides. In addition, a community-based services coordinator was hired to coordinate community public awareness, training and postvention activities. In March of 2012, the Juneau Community Suicide Prevention Task Force voted to change its name to the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition in order to reflect the group’s broad-based and ongoing to its mission.