There was a rise in the rate of suicides in Ketchikan in the month of September. Reports have placed the number between 7 and 10. September is also National Suicide Prevention Month. Mental health is an important topic around Ketchikan going into the winter months.

In mental health work, there is a term called “protective factors.” They are the things that help communities be more resilient in the face of mental health challenges and substance abuse. In other words, they help people cope.

Ketchikan saw an uptick in suicides this fall, as reported by the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition. As the days get shorter and wetter, coping becomes even more important. 

Dr. Brittany Pope, a professional counselor who has worked with Ketchikan residents for the last eight years, said the city needs more protective factors.

“I do think there’s been an increased need for mental health services and decreased options. There’s just a decreased resource. Subtracting things, instead of adding things. So, I think there’s a huge need,” Pope said.

There are other systemic hurdles to getting treatment; issues that it seems like Alaska and the entire nation are grappling with, like stigma, weak insurance coverage, lack of funding. Then there are the shortages right here in Ketchikan. 

“We have a residential for substance misuse. But we don’t have any residential treatment for mental health concerns,” Pope said. “So, if someone’s looking for support and they need an inpatient, the only thing we have is the hospital. We don’t have anything else. And that’s a great resource. But we need better options for people who need more inpatient, maybe more acute care. 

That residential program Pope mentioned is KAR House, Ketchikan’s addiction treatment facility. KAR House is run by Akeela, Inc. and recently, the Anchorage-based nonprofit announced that KAR House is shutting its doors too, temporarily. Courtney Donovan, Akeela’s CEO, said in an email that the closure is to boost staffing.

Akeela also owns the Gateway Center for Human Services. Before the state asked them to take over KAR House and the Gateway Center, they were owned and operated by the City of Ketchikan. Courtney Donovan said in the email: Akeela is committed to Ketchikan. We initiated our services in 2010 and have done so, diligently and without fail, in your community ever since.

For Pope, a program temporarily shutting down for lack of staff is par for the course. “I think the first issue is staff. Like we don’t have a ton of – it’s a transient place. We don’t have a ton of people who stay in place or stay in Ketchikan. Like, for example: me.” 

Pope herself is an example of someone who left Ketchikan. She went away for her postdoc internship and returns to the city for part of the year, providing telehealth services to residents for the other half of the year. 

Pope continued, “but there aren’t a ton of providers in town or providers that stay. Working on staffing incentives for mental health agencies and being able to pay more is a big thing too, because, you know, typically we are an underpaid and overworked field.” 

Although there are staff shortages, Pope said the ones that do exist are very good and underutilized. The key is finding them. 

That part should be easy, says Lisa DeLaet, but sometimes it isn’t. Delaet is the community director of the Crisis Now program at the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition. Think of the coalition less like a single entity and more like an umbrella of task forces dedicated to serving various community needs. Crisis Now is one of those task forces.

“This team could help you connect to services, maybe provide some crisis intervention right on the spot, some crisis planning, some suicide prevention planning, like a care plan for yourself or with your family, and they could meet you at your home, on the street, the plaza, in the school, and places like that,” said DeLaet.

Delaet said there are three main components to Crisis Now’s help model. 

First, people can call 988, the crisis support line. Delaet stressed that it doesn’t have to just be in your darkest moment. You could just be having a hard time. Secondly, there are people to respond to you when you’re in need. And the third component is still being worked on – and that’s some place to go.

Here’s Jackie Yates, the coalition’s executive director, explaining the components: “The first model being ‘someone to call.’ It would be highly recommended that we call 988. 988 is the crisis support line. The second phase to this program is someone to respond. That is someone who can come to you where you’re at and help you and support you with what you’re feeling or needing. And then the last component is something that’s still being worked on in the community, and that’s somewhere to go.”

Yates also said that for times when a crisis support line isn’t enough, there are two public mental health providers on the island. That is in addition to the many private practitioners, like Pope, that serve the community.

The Ketchikan Indian Community is one of the community’s public providers. They offer therapy, walk-in counseling, and other services for tribal members. The other is Akeela, which connects residents to a therapist and offers services through the Gateway Center for Human Services.

In talking to Yates, DeLaet, and Pope, there is an overlapping sentiment. For all of the problems facing behavioral health services in Ketchikan, there are also an overwhelming number of protective factors.  

In a small town where the road ends at either side, problems can feel magnified. DeLaet says Ketchikan’s greatest protective factor is community. 

“I used to say that Ketchikan makes its own sunshine because we do have sporting events, we have bands, we have churches, and all of the programs that they have. We have community theater, drama, the arts, anything you want to do basket weaving, painting, sculpting pottery. So, there are lots of opportunities to make your own sunshine,” she said. 

Depression, anxiety, addiction are isolating. DeLeat says there are people all around you to lean on. It is just taking that first step to reach out and sometimes it is as easy as trying something new.

“I’ve been in this community a long time, but I’ve never been to a book reading. And the other day there was a fisherman – fisherlady – doing a book review. And it was amazing. And even though I didn’t know anybody in the room, I felt very welcomed and just glad that I tried something new,” she said.

The mental health providers main message is: if you’re in crisis, there are options available to help you cope. You can call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at any time to connect with a trained crisis counselor. 

In Ketchikan, you can also find help by contacting or walking into the Gateway Center for Human Services or Ketchikan Indian Community’s Department of Behavioral Health and be connected with a licensed counselor. The Ketchikan Wellness Coalition also offers a list of private practitioners which can be found at