Anchorage, AK – In a speech to the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, Alaskan Congressman Don Young today shared his sincere and honest apology for the pain caused by his recent statements on the issue of suicide. In a remorseful speech to AFN Convention delegates, Congressman Young focused on his own personal experiences of dealing with a trouble family member, in addition to the steps Congress can take to support mental health programs, combat domestic violence, and prevent suicide. Congress Young shared the following comments:
“I have served the public and state of Alaska for 45 years – all of the Alaskan people. There is however, a private side of me that few see. You may not know it but much of that private side is what drives my public side. It motivates me to tackle some pretty tough issues and I don’t often share that motivation because it is private. But today, I’m going to address a little bit of that private side.
“Recently, I addressed one of those issues with high school students in Wasilla – the issue of suicide. Because I have been touched by this issue, it’s very personal to me. It may have caused me to mangle some of my statements and comments that caused this uproar. But I will tell you, I have asked myself many times, did I do enough? Did I take the nephew away from an abusive father? Did I love him enough? Did I do enough? Apparently, I did not. I made up my mind that I was trying to prevent the future of suicides from occurring.
“I know that suicide rates in rural Alaska are the highest in the country and of grave concern to all of you in this room. We have to come to grips with that if we want to prevent suicide. We cannot bring back our loved ones; we cannot, as myself, dwell on what has happened, although it is very painful not to. We in fact need to address the issue, why has it happened? Why does it happen?
“Because of my comments, I am profoundly and genuinely sorry for the pain it has caused the Alaskan people. I am genuinely sorry for the pain I have caused the individual, as I have experienced it, and hope that you won’t have to experience that.
“My record paints a very different picture. I give suicide and mental health issues high priority. I cosponsored and voted to fund the Mental Health First Aid act, which was enacted into law. It gives $10 million in grants to state and local entities to train teachers, schools, police officers, and others how to identify the warning signs of someone suffering from a variety of mental illnesses such as depression or substance abuse or contemplating suicide. With that knowledge, trainees would be trained on how to safely and effectively direct the individual to help.
“We may be able to give some of that funding to the John Baker Youth Leaders Program in Kotzebue. Kotzebue has not had a youth suicide in 5 years because of the strong support group they have built. That is what we must do around this state.
“I fought for and voted in favor of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which is part of a nationwide state and tribal youth suicide intervention program network. I will continue to support the Victims of Crime Act and Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Programs, both of which fund programs to combat domestic abuse and provide adequate safe support for the victims.
“To combat domestic violence and suicide, it takes two steps. (1) Make effective mental health treatment services available, and (2) get the individual suffering from those diseases to seek treatment. As your Congressman, I will fight for bills that create and maintain these mental health treatment services. It is up to all of us, friends and families, to somehow convince those suffering to seek the help they need.
“Again, I am profoundly sorry to those I offended.”