This article has been edited. Previously ICT reported that U.S. Suicide Rates for American Indians / Alaska Natives is 16.9% compared to U.S. rate of 12.1% - that figure is incorrect. The Suicide Rates for American Indians / Alaska Natives is 16.9 in 100,000 as compared to U.S. rate of 12.1 per 100,000.
Associate Editor’s note: If you are suffering in any way or hurting and feel if there is nowhere to turn, please reach out the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The site offers an 800 number that can be called 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you wish, you can also visit their website for a live chat. Grief, sadness and depression are real afflictions, but they are temporary. Suicide is permanent. Please reach out first and blessings and prayers to those who are struggling.
September is National Recovery Month. Accordingly, every September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA, works along with other mental health organizations to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and celebrate the people who recover.
Additionally, September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.
In recognition of the month and day on September 10th, Indian Country Today is recognizing efforts that help those affected by suicide and associated efforts to assist people to fight it within their communities.
It will not come as much of a surprise to the Native communities involved — who have had to answer a frantic call from a family that a Native youth has taken their life — that suicide is what some communities are calling a regional and national crisis.
Statistics from the past decade and more have long supported the communities assertions. According to the CDC, Suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for American Indians/Alaska Natives of all ages and the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10–24.
There is a bit of a surprise in that the AI/AN rate decreases significantly after early adulthood in contrast to the rate in the overall. According to the CDC:
Despite the general decline in suicide rates as the AI/AN population ages, a recent CDC study found that AI/AN men and women ages 35–64 had a greater percentage increase in suicide rates between 1999 and 2011 than any other racial/ethnic group. Suicide Rates of American Indian/Alaska Native Men and Women Ages 35–64 U.S. population, which increases with age.
Another perhaps unknown factor is the wide variation of suicide rates among tribes, the also CDC cites the following:
For example, the rate found among the White Mountain Apache people was much higher (45.4 per 100,000) than among all American Indians/Alaska Natives (13.93 per 100,000) in the same time period of 2001–2006. The suicide rate for White Mountain Apache youth ages 15–24 (128.5 per 100,000) was much higher than the rate for all AI/AN youth of the same ages in the same time period (24.62 per 100,000).
In the years 2003–2006, Alaska Natives had a suicide rate of 51.4, compared to 16.9 in the non-Native Alaska population. However, there was considerable variation in the suicide rates of Natives among the different regions of the state and the different Native ethnic groups, with the Inupiat Eskimos having the highest rates, and the Aleuts having a rate lower than the rest of Alaska.
Additionally, the CDC reports that in In 2012–2013 several troubling statistics:
- Young adult males aged 18–24 were more likely than young adult females to commit suicide.
- The suicide rate was highest in the AI/AN population for both males and females (34.3 and 9.9 deaths per 100,000 population, respectively).
- AI/AN males were more than twice as likely to commit suicide as most other gender and racial and ethnic subgroups.
- Suicide rates for AI/AN young adults are likely to be underestimated; a previous study found that deaths overall for the AI/AN population were underreported by 30%.
So what efforts are working?
Indian Country Today has researched and compiled a list of resources and suggestions for best practices in supporting people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. We are citing the following crises organizations to include the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the Indian Health Service Suicide Prevention and Care Program, the Bureau of Indian Affairs page on Suicide Prevention, American Indian and Alaska Native Health and the Substance Abuse and the Mental Health Services Administration.
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline webpage dedicated to Native Americans, recognizes the fact that depression and suicide affect people of all ages and populations, but Native American and Alaskan Native populations can be at a higher risk.
The site offers an 800 number that can be called 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) they even offer a live chat online.
The also suggest ways to take care of yourself if you are suffering which includes:
Talk to someone
Make a safety plan
Build your support network
Find an activity you enjoy
And ways to help someone who is suffering to include:
Know the facts
Ask and Listen
Get them help and take care of yourself
They also offers links to the following resources:
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center cites suicide prevention as a high priority for people working to promote wellness and reduce health disparities affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The website states:
Drawing on strengths within Native traditions, community leaders and experts are developing models that are culturally based to promote mental health and prevent suicide for future generations.
The center also states the best practices for preventing suicide in Native communities is to use a culturally relevant, contextually driven, comprehensive approach that includes these key components:
- Promote culturally competent practices that increase protective factors and reduce risk.
- Connect the community’s resources to create a shared vision of wellness.
- Gather information from Elders and community members to gain knowledge and understand the issue of suicide in the community where you are working.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center also offers nearly a hundred articles, online-accessible toolkits and suicide prevention plans available to the public. Many of their online content offers best practices in helping Native youth.
Indian Health Service Suicide Prevention and Care Program
As described on the IHS suicide-specific page, “Despite the strengths of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) families and communities, suicide remains a devastating and all too frequent event...Cooperation among Tribal, Federal, and other partners is imperative to create a safety net of interconnected programming - health, education, law enforcement, public health and well-being, economic development, and physical and behavioral health - to maximize effectiveness of services and to protect individuals against suicide risk.”
There are a number of resources available on their site page to include ‘How to talk about suicide, resources, zero suicide initiative, Hope for Life Day Toolkit and much more.
Bureau of Indian Affairs
The Bureau of Indian Affairs page on Suicide Prevention includes a long list of federal agencies, organizations, articles, training materials and resources on American Indian and Alaska Native suicide prevention.
We will list them here - further descriptions can be found on the BIA website.
American Indian and Alaska Native Organizations
Suicide Prevention Organizations
Suicide Prevention Best Practices and Evidence-Based Programs
American Indian and Alaska Native Suicide Prevention Publications and Resources
Suicide Prevention Resources for Schools
American Indian and Alaska Native Health Suicide Awareness Page https://americanindianhealth.nlm.nih.gov/subtopic/1/Health-Conditions/45/Suicide/
This site is chiefly for researchers, health professionals, and educators looking for resources.
There is an impressive amount of information available to include journal citations, articles, traditional practices and more.
Resource links include:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA
Tribal training and Technical Assistance Center
Find organizations, articles, and other resources that American Indian and Alaska Native Communities can use to strengthen suicide prevention efforts.
Provides information on suicide and risk and protective factors among American Indians and Alaska Natives
A culturally appropriate guide for empowering tribal youth and preventing suicide
Associate Editor note:
A few years ago, I made this video.
I saw other young people who have used note cards to make a video. I once struggled with depression after a sexual assault had happened to me and I considered taking my life. I thank the Creator I did not.
Stay with us Young Warriors - we need you here on this earth.
Music courtesy Michael Bucher
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling