September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. And over the past few weeks in Unalaska, organizations like the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) and Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence (USAFV), as well as the Qawalangin Tribe, have stepped up to help spread awareness.
USAFV Director M. Lynn Crane said that at the local nonprofit, which provides a number of resources for the community, including crisis intervention, shelter, and legal advocacy—to name a few—mental health is something staff confront and think about daily.
“Everything we do here is so interconnected,” said Crane. “Domestic violence, family violence, child abuse, sexual assault—they all have mental health components to them for both the survivors and the perpetrators. So I think it’s all very interconnected.”
Due to heightened isolation from the coronavirus pandemic and the amount of devastation the Unalaska community has seen in the past couple of years with the loss of several young adults, Crane said it’s easy for people to feel disconnected. And she said, in a small isolated place like Unalaska, it can be especially difficult for people to feel comfortable reaching out for resources.
“I think it’s hard for people to ask for help, period,” said Crane. “But in a community like this, where if you park your car outside of USAFV or you park your car outside of the behavioral health providers’ [office] at APIA, you assume people are going to know why you’re there. And there’s such a stigma attached to getting help for these issues, when there really shouldn’t be.”
APIA Youth Services Coordinator Dusin Newman said that stigma is something he also sees in the Unangax̂ culture, and something he is working to combat.
“We have this stigma as Native men that we have to bottle everything up and we can just deal with it on our own,” said Newman. “And that’s not the right way to do it. Unangax̂ men were built in community before colonization. We would go to our families for help when we’re dealing with hard times.”
Newman—who is based out of Anchorage, but is originally from King Cove—is in Unalaska to work with the Qawalangin Tribe on two Unangax̂ cultural build projects: an iqyax̂—Aleutian sea kayak and a banya, or steam bath. The builds are part of APIA’s “culture as prevention” approach to mental wellbeing, according to Newman.
He said both projects—like other cultural practices such as dancing—are inherently tied to mental health, community, and also spirituality.
“Like the spiritual aspect of dancing, we also believe [that] a long time ago—and these are things that we’re still trying to reclaim—everything had a spirit to it, everything was alive,” explained Newman. “And so the iqyax̂ itself is a being that’s alive when it’s created. Once it’s finished, it is its own being and you hold it to the highest respect and you could look at that as your life. You hold yourself in a good manner, you hold yourself…