Preventing Suicide, All Too “Normal” Among Native Youth

Standing Rock grievingFrom Stephanie Woodard, for Indian Country Today Media Network: “On the Standing  Rock Sioux Reservation, tribal members who’ve lost family to suicide heal by  grieving together…

[Native] youngsters kill themselves at a rate at least triple the United States average…

‘American Indian and Alaska Native youth have the highest suicide rates in  the country,’ said Richard McKeon, chief of the suicide prevention branch of the  federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). To  begin to abate this, Native groups received about a third of the agency’s recent  round of Garrett Lee Smith grants, named for a Senator’s son who killed himself  in 2003. ‘We want to help as many as tribes as possible reduce risk factors,  such as substance abuse and depression,’ McKeon added. With the grants, the tribes will also bolster what scientists call protective  factors. ‘For Native people, that means connecting with culture, an extremely  important asset, as well as family and community,’ explained McKeon.

Throughout Indian country, even very young children are included in prevention events and activities. ‘On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, we can start talking about suicide when kids are in pre-school,’ said Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, staffer for the Sweetgrass Project, a tribal suicide prevention program.

How do you broach such a subject with a five-year-old? ‘Our kindergarteners  can tell you about how daddy hung himself,’ DeCory responded. ‘They go to wakes  and funerals. Suicide has become “normal” to them.'”