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Poor Alaskan Economy Blamed For Suicides

December 3, 1986

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Money, not jilted love, appears to be taking over as a leading cause of suicide here as Alaska’s oil-fueled economy slumps, experts say.

Men used to kill themselves when their lovers left them, Anchorage Coroner Charlene Doris said Tuesday. But in the past few months, with the state’s economy deteriorating, money is becoming more and more of a reason, she said.

″We’ve seen a definite increase in the 30- to 40-year-old male - the breadwinner,″ she said. ″I think there’s a direct correlation. It used to not be because of financial matters. But in March, April, when the bottom dropped out ....″

Early this year, the price of oil plunged from $28 a barrel to less than half that much, and the impact rippled throughout the state’s economy.

Rosalie Nadeau, director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Hotline Center, said calls began increasing this spring, and now are at an all-time high. She said men normally make about 65 percent of the calls, and more frequently they are talking about financial problems.

″Those guys who can’t deal with failure, who feel helpless and hopeless and can’t see any options. Those are the guys at big risk,″ Nadeau said.

The situation isn’t unique to Alaska, she noted.

″This same sort of thing is going on right now in North Dakota, where there are a lot of farmers who can’t support their families,″ Nadeau said. ″It happened in Detroit, during the auto industry depression. It happened in the steel industry. It’s just starting up here.″

Last year in Anchorage, the state’s largest city with a population of 245,000 people, 33 men and 13 women killed themselves, records show.

This year’s figures are unavailable, but case files show at least four suicides clearly linked to financial difficulties. And Doris said money was a significant factor in a number of others.

″We may have had maybe one a year or something like that in years past,″ Doris said. ″But there’s never been a year like this, that they would catch my attention like this.″

Susan LaGrande, director of the Male Awareness Program, said her agency also is seeing the economic impact. The program counsels men to help them control abusive acts against spouses, children and girlfriends.

″More of the men we’re seeing in the program are unempoyed,″ LaGrande said. ″Overall, being out of work has been the final blow, or if violence was already in the home, this seems to push it more.

″These kinds of men are already depressed,″ she said. ″That’s also the kind of people who are at high risk (for suicide) anyway. Add stress like the economy and that’s just one more failure for them to deal with.″

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