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2 friends in Alaska discuss losing so many people to suicide

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A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. And we have a warning for our listeners. This morning's conversation is about suicide. Don Rearden and Qaiyaan Harcharek grew up in small Alaskan towns hundreds of miles apart, places with some of the highest suicide rates in the country. And when their friendship began, they realized how much they had in common.

QAIYAAN HARCHAREK: It seemed as if we knew each other our whole lives. It's kind of strange.

DON REARDEN: Yeah, right away. I don't think the average person can understand what it's like to grow up in a place where you lose so many people to suicide.

HARCHAREK: It's tough.

REARDEN: Yeah, it is. The first person that I knew intimately who'd took his own life was a teammate of mine. I was just a freshman in high school, and he had moved in to Bethel to play basketball. We were good friends. And then that summer, I found out he'd, you know, took his life. And then that fall, I lost another classmate. Pretty soon, it was like a whole gym full of people that I knew personally who were gone.

HARCHAREK: I could relate 100%. All of my adult life, I've had struggles with mental health and depression, and I'm a suicide survivor. I attempted it. However, I have this vision. I don't know - it's hard to describe, but it was my wife and children reaching up to me, and there were many, many silhouettes around them of people with faces, and yours was one of them. What I do know is it was the love that I received from each and every one of those people that saved my life.

REARDEN: I'll never forget when you called me after. I just - I mean, I cried. I was thinking of you and just relieved that it was a call like that and not something else. We've lost so many people that way, and you feel hopeless, and you feel like nothing you could ever do matters. And then to hear you say, like, (crying) I was one of those faces was something, man.

HARCHAREK: Yeah. I appreciate you.

REARDEN: I appreciate you, man. We need to get out on the land together and just go spend some time in the wilderness.

HARCHAREK: Absolutely. That's my medicine.

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MARTÍNEZ: Qaiyaan Harcharek and Don Rearden in Anchorage, Alaska. This StoryCorps conversation is archived at the Library of Congress. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Max Jungreis