GCI Aims to Reduce Suicide Rate, Promote Mental Wellness in Alaska

Mental wellness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Alaskans know better than anyone how important it is to support mental wellness initiatives. Alaska has one of the highest rates of suicide per capita in the nation, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. And in a state where distance already proved a challenge for its rural residents, with some only being able to travel by airplane to visit nearby cities or villages, the isolation periods that the pandemic brought with it were of no help to Alaska's ongoing battle against suicide and mental illness. But as the state's leading internet service provider, GCI has shown that it takes its job as a connectivity provider very seriously—not just by offering internet services, but also the kind of interpersonal and community-based connectivity that supports emotional and mental wellness for Alaska's youth and residents.

Since 2017, GCI has contributed more than $600,000 to nonprofits that help prevent and lower the rate of suicide in Alaska. Together with the Alaska Community Foundation, GCI offers the GCI Suicide Prevention Fund grant program every year, which funds projects and organizations that aim to reduce the rates of suicide in the state and promote mental wellness. Tribes, schools, churches, local government agencies, and nonprofits in Alaska are eligible to apply, with preference given to efforts and programs that target rural parts of the state. GCI's goal is to help grow and support those programs that strengthen community and personal connections and focus on activities around suicide prevention, intervention, and crisis response. 

In fact, the current grant cycle is now open through June 15 and includes awards between $1,000 and $20,000. The application timeline was moved this year ahead of the summer, just before many in rural Alaska depart for the fishing season, to reach as many rural communities as possible. 

"It's beyond important to GCI that we have and create strong connections with all the communities we serve," said GCI Director of Rural Affairs Jen Nelson. "By moving up this application deadline, we can reach more of our neighbors in rural Alaska before they depart for summer fish camps. Through the past six years of this fund, we've seen how supporting nonprofits from very small villages to our larger urban centers makes real change as we all work to lower the rate of suicide in our state."

"It's beyond important to GCI that we have and create strong connections with all the communities we serve."

Last year, GCI awarded $114,000 of suicide prevention grants to 14 organizations, including Gold Star Peak, an organization dedicated to serving veterans, active-duty members, families of fallen service members who have died in combat, and those who died from suicide. Gold Star Peak reported having its most impactful year to date. Another grant recipient, Opt-In Kiana, which is a youth-based nonprofit that promotes the Inupiaq culture, also reported that funding from the GCI Suicide Prevention Fund helped tremendously in supporting its community in the tragic aftermath of two suicides. Then the rural program of Camp Fire Alaska, also a grant recipient, used the funds to develop mental health, wellness, and prevention-based activities for teens, and to support evidence-based suicide prevention training for its staff.

This past fall, before the cold winter months hit Alaska, GCI also launched a free virtual mental health and wellness challenge to help Alaskans find connections with other community members. The GCI Wellness Challenge, which will happen again this coming September to coincide with National Suicide Prevention Month, included four mental health wellness challenges which encouraged Alaskans to complete a 5k run or walk, cook a healthy meal, check in with a friend, and to take 30 minutes of "me time," such as going for a walk, reading a book, or meditating, etc. Participants who completed every task entered to win tech prizes as incentives. 

GCI's investment in mental health initiatives is part of the $2 million the ISP donates each year in cash, products, and connectivity to organizations all over Alaska, making GCI one of Alaska's leaders in corporate philanthropy. And its commitment to mental wellness is making a lasting impact for communities across the state as the ISP continues to prioritize suicide prevention through funding, grants, strong partnerships, and programs that encourage connectedness.