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Talking to Children about Self-Harming Behaviors: Info for Parents/Caregivers

ACMHS’s Meghan Magone, program manager for the Parenting with Love and Limits program at ACMHS, recommends the following resources for parents/caregivers for talking to their children about self-harming behavior and suicide.

  • Local Crisis Line: 907-563-3200
  • National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Trevor Project Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386 – an LGBTQ specific hotline
  • LGBTQ youth talk and peer hotline: 1-888-843-4564

Coping with Self Harm Brochure_FINAL_copyright This guide features practical straightforward advice about how to begin a conversation with children about self-harming behavior. Ranges from “what is self-harm” to “managing self-harm injuries.” It is put out by Oxford department of psychiatry. (article: and the handout is within the article).

Regarding suicide specifically, there are the suicide first aid guidelines put out by the Mental Health First Aide Australia that I’ve found to be informative in general: what to do if someone is feeling suicidal? What are the signs? Preparing yourself to approach the talk. How to ask. What to do and what not to do. It was developed by experts from Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, and Canada.  Families Suicide Prevention – Facts for Parents MHFA_suicide_guidelinesA4 2014 Revised

This information from Suicide Prevention Resource Center links to other useful resources:  Families

Meet Chip Ellis and Stephen Washington – a well-matched pair.

On a recent Friday morning, Chip Ellis and clinician Stephen Washington sat chatting in Stephen’s office at ACMHS, discussing favorite foods and other light topics, because I’m sitting there, after all.  Chip has been an ACMHS client for a few months.  Stephen is his second clinician at ACMHS because, Chip says, the right fit is important.  And it’s clear these two are a good fit – they talk easily and joke often.

Stephen arrived at his office early in the morning; he uses the time before client appointments to collect his thoughts and review his client’s treatment plans and goals.  He likes to begin every session with a plan for what to work on, leaving some time to talk about whatever may have come up.   Key to his approach with clients is to treat them with a great deal of respect; he says it’s one way to combat the stigma of mental illness.  [More on Stephen’s philosophy of care here.Link to Youtube.]

As for Chip, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia about 8 years ago, and also has agoraphobia, anxiety and depression.  It got so bad he literally ran down the street to a mental health clinic one day looking for help (he was living in Utah at the time).  He can no longer drive, due to hallucinations, and he’s chosen to maintain his stability by staying on his medication.  Regular sessions with Stephen to talk through things that come up help keep small issues from derailing his life. After 8 years, he finally feels like he’s making progress, and enjoying life more.

– Photos by Holley Stogsdill, story by Jessica Cochran

Trauma 101 in Anchorage coming March 29th!

Trauma Informed Schools

The Department of Education & Early Development (DEED) and the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB) released a new resource for Alaska schools entitled “Transforming Schools: A Framework for Trauma-Engaged Practice in Alaska”.  Their press release describes the guide as an innovative framework that “provides schools with a detailed roadmap illuminating the steps that can be taken to better address students’ needs.” (find the full press release here.)

The Alaska Child Trauma Center at ACMHS is proud to have participated in developing this framework.  Joshua Arvidson, Director of Child and Family Services and the Alaska Child Trauma Center at ACMHS, is encouraged by this focus in Alaska’s schools. “I’m optimistic that schools can become the best part of life and the best place and a refuge for kids and youth who experience social, emotional, mental health challenges and or traumatic experiences.  I think that with enough caring adults and motivated youth it can happen. ”



Meet Sauniga Gogo.

Meet Sauniga Gogo.

He’s a big guy, and he hugs often: you feel his warmth the minute you meet him. His staff call him “Gogo” and respond with smiles to his shouts of greeting down the hallways.  Sauniga Gogo has been general manager at this midtown Anchorage hotel for about a month. A year-and-a half ago, he was homeless.

Gogo says he came to Alaska from Pago Pago when he was 17 to finish school. But he had a falling out with his adopted brother and ended up homeless. At that point, he was young enough to find shelter and support at Covenant House Alaska, where he first spoke to an ACMHS clinician.  He completed an-online high school program, got a job and an apartment and lived on his own for a while.  When he tried to enroll in nursing school, he found out that his high-school diploma was from an unaccredited program, and when his boss learned that, he lost his job.  That’s how he ended up homeless again, this time for several months.  He knew he’d aged out of Covenant House and wasn’t sure where to go.

But he’s resourceful. So he followed a guest into a hotel, found the business center, and googled “homeless youth Anchorage”.  That’s how he found Alaska Youth Advocates, a program of ACMHS. He started messaging through facebook, and Serena Nesteby, who was AYA’s program manager at the time, recommended Shiloh Community Housing.  When he needed a deposit and rent, she helped connect him with funding through an Alaska State Department of Labor program that has since been discontinued. His contact there was Mary Marsh, who now works as an employment specialist for ACMHS.

Marsh says Gogo was highly motivated; “He had goals, and he worked hard to achieve them. He made my job easy because he had a plan and he stuck to it.”

Gogo still hopes to go to nursing school when he can manage it. He’s a musician and a member of Anchorage’s Youth Task Force on homelessness.  He performed in a video that made the finals for the Chan Zuckerberg Thrive Initiative Challenge in August 2018, and which probably helped Covenant House score a $1 million grant from Premera Blue Cross. He thinks his experiences with homelessness make him a better manager: he believes in giving people chances that might help them, and says you’d be amazed how motivated those staff are to do well.

Recently, he reached out to AYA, again via facebook, to say thanks for the help he received.  “I’m just laying on my bed, and I’m thankful for everything. You direct me to the right program that can help me out with my life,” he wrote. “…I hope I can meet you someday because you have no idea how much you done for my life. Thank you, Alaska Youth Advocates.”

Finding stability with FCMHS

Chad came in for services at Fairbanks Community Mental Health Services last summer. At the time, he was on the verge of complete homelessness – living in an old motel that had been shut down and abandoned because it was caving in, more or less.

He’d been on the decline for about five years, ever since the former Fairbanks behavioral health center went bankrupt: he got disconnected from services and discontinued his medication. He rarely went outside: getting to FCMHS on his own to get services was too hard.  Eventually another client and friend helped him come in for an intake appointment.

photo of very clean sink, stove, kitchen area

The kitchen area of Chad’s new efficiency apartment

Now, Chad is back on his medication and back in therapy.  And he has a case manager, Wanda Naffziger, who he describes as a “lifesaver”.   She helped him get on food stamps and on disability – and helped him find new housing with funding help from  SSVF – Supportive Services for Veterans Families, another lifesaver.

Chad says he’s “taking it one step at a time.  I’m afraid to look too far into the future, I’m not ready for that.”  One goal is to finish applying for veterans benefits. He says he’s always had a lot of guilt about that because his issues aren’t combat related. Staff at FCMHS have helped him come to see those thoughts have more to do with his low self-esteem than what benefits he’s entitled to for his years of service.

Staff at FCMHS are impressed with the progress he’s made, happy to see him out walking around town.  He’s predictably a little more modest. “I go to the store. I’m not completely useless by myself.  But if it comes to something different, it’s still exceedingly difficult, especially if there’s a lot of people.”

photo of neatly made bed, shelving

The “bedroom” area of Chad’s new one-room apartment

Chad feels like he has the support he needs to take some next steps right now, but he says he’ll always need that support. “If I got disconnected from services, I’d fall again.  Ever since this started, every time I go out of services, I get worse again the next time.”

Fairbanks Community Mental Health Services intends to continuing providing support just as long as it needed.

AYA Warm Hands, Warm Hearts Silent Auction Fundraiser

Child & Family Services Accepting New Clients

January 15, 2019
Accepting New Clients ages 3-24
The Alaska Child Trauma Center at ACMHS, ACMHS Child & Family Services team and the ACMHS Parenting with Love and Limits programs are pleased to announce that we have openings for services in Anchorage and are accepting new clients. Please call our referral line 907-762-8667 to schedule an intake appointment.
We are also now able to provide medication management for ages 14 and up, through the ACMHS medical department.

Click here to see our notice to referral partners. 

Click here for more information about Child & Family Services at ACMHS.

ACMHS selected for national learning collaborative on youth mental health

ACMHS Selected for National Learning Collaborative to Address Youth Mental Health

“Connected” will bring together five youth-serving organizations from across the country

Anchorage, AK, December 26, 2018- Anchorage Community Mental Health Services is pleased to announce that we have been selected to be part of a national learning collaborative aimed at reducing anxiety, depression and suicide among youth ages 13-23. The collaborative, called “Connected”, is a program of the National Council on Behavioral Health. ACMHS, though its programs Alaska Youth Advocates and Alaska Seeds of Change, is one of five participating organizations, chosen from nearly 250 applicants.

Through participation in the program, ACMHS aims to develop new services to meet the needs of youth ages 13-23, and new methods of connecting to those services. Alaska Youth Advocates has a long history of engaging some of Anchorage’s most vulnerable youth through a drop-in center, street outreach program and educational presentations. Alaska Seeds of Change is a vocational training program for at-risk transition age youth. The mental health needs of the shared population served by these programs is significant, but there are significant barriers to youth accessing these services, including stigma, insurance, and transportation challenges. ACMHS provides quality mental health services across the lifespan, but youth have unique needs, and programs designed for children and adults don’t always meet these needs. ACMHS hopes to develop programs and services to overcome these barriers.
The National Council describes the initiative goals as “to increase access and engagement in quality, appropriate care for culturally diverse, rural, LGBTQ+ and other youth populations that experience barriers to mental health supports.” Through participation in this collaborative, ACMHS will be connected with mentor organizations to share their experiences and help refine our approaches. Program evaluation through the Michigan Public Health Institute will measure the effectiveness of our efforts. As part of the program, young people from the Anchorage area have been invited to participate as “Young Influencers”, with the opportunity to attend national conferences and meetings. The ACMHS project team includes both clinical and youth staff from ACMHS, AYA and Alaska Seeds of Change.

ACMHS, Inc. has been providing behavioral health services in the Anchorage area since 1974. ACMHS serves a broad spectrum of Alaskans across the span of life, including emotionally disturbed children, homeless and at-risk transition age youth and adults with mental illness. AYA has been serving homeless and at risk youth in the Anchorage area since 1972, and became part of ACMHS in 2014. Alaska Seeds of Change began operations in December 2016.

For more information, please contact Jessica Cochran, Director of Community Relations and Communications, at 907-440-8047 (cell), 907-261-5330 (desk) or


ACMHS December Newsletter

Check out the ACMHS December Newsletter here!  We wish our longest-serving Board Member, Dr. Phillip Bach, a fond farewell as he retires from the board.