Suicide is a serious problem in the Native American community. Mental health and healthcare are two important factors that contribute to suicide rates. In this article, we will explore the state of mental health and healthcare in the Native American community. We will also discuss some suicide prevention strategies that could be implemented in order to help reduce suicide rates in this population.
In a September 1975 article in the Journal of Psychiatry, James Shore tells us the tale of how the “suicidal Indian” stereotype came to be. On the same day as a suicide-related death on the intermountain Indian reservation, Senator Robert Kennedy paid a visit. American Indian suicide became the talk of the town, bringing attention to the fact that indigenous peoples had an unusually high rate of suicide (around 100 per 100,000 people).
In the years that followed, research on suicide among American Indians increased ten-fold. Despite this increase in attention, little has changed in terms of suicide prevention or mental health care for Native Americans.
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on suicide rates in the United States from 1999-2010. The report showed that suicide rates had increased by 4% during this time period. However, when looking at specific demographics, it was found that suicide rates had actually decreased for most groups with the exception of two: middle-aged adults (45-54 years old) and adults aged 85 years or older.
For middle-aged adults, suicide rates increased by 30%. For those 85 years or older, suicide rates increased by 14%. While suicide rates were increasing for the general population, they were also increasing at a higher rate for Native Americans.
The CDC report found that suicide rates for Native Americans aged 15 or older had increased by 65% from 1999-2010. This was the largest increase of any group studied. Despite this large increase, suicide rates for Native Americans are still lower than those of the general population. However, they are much higher than other minority groups such as African Americans and Latinos. In fact, suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Native Americans aged 10-24 years old.
There are many factors that contribute to the high suicide rate among Native Americans. One factor is the historical trauma that Native Americans have experienced. This includes things like the forced relocation of Native Americans during the 1800s, as well as the boarding school system that was implemented in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
These schools were designed to assimilate Native American children into mainstream American culture. This often involved physical and sexual abuse, as well as emotional trauma. As a result, many Native Americans suffer from PTSD and other mental health disorders.
Another factor that contributes to the high suicide rate among Native Americans is the lack of access to mental health care. In some cases, there are no mental health care providers on reservations. In other cases, providers may be available but they may not be culturally competent or qualified to treat Native American patients. This can make it difficult for Native Americans to get the care they need.
According to the CDC, American Indians and Alaska Natives have a suicide rate that is double the general population (Manson 2003). Suicide, attempted suicides, and suicidal ideation are all terms used to describe suicide-related behavior. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of suicide in the United States among all ethnic groups (15-24 years old). Youth suicide is a serious problem for American Indian children. There were 4 million American Indian and Alaskan Native people living in the United States in 2001, accounting for just 1.5 percent of the overall population.
However, suicide among this group accounted for 2.5% of all suicide deaths in the U.S. (Manson 2003). There are a number of factors that contribute to suicide-related behaviors in AI/AN populations. Mental health problems, such as depression and alcohol abuse, are two of the most significant risk factors for suicide (Manson 2003). Other risk factors include acculturation stress, loss of traditional values and support systems, and exposure to violence (Froese-Germain & Chiodo 2008).
The high rates of suicide and suicide-related behavior in AI/AN communities is compounded by the fact that these communities often do not have access to adequate mental health care. Many Native American reservations are located in rural areas, far from mental health care providers.
Even when reservations are located near urban areas, Native Americans may not have the transportation or resources to access mental health care. In addition, there is a significant shortage of mental health care providers who are culturally competent in working with AI/AN patients (Froese-Germain & Chiodo 2008).
The suicide rate among AI/AN people is a serious problem that requires immediate attention. However, addressing the problem is complicated by a number of factors, including the lack of access to mental health care and the scarcity of culturally competent providers. In order to reduce suicide rates in AI/AN communities, it is essential to increase access to mental health care and to develop culturally appropriate prevention and intervention programs.
The median age of an American Indian is 26 years. Because they are a relatively young group, it’s critical to bring attention to the concerns that affect the culture’s preservation. In this paper, I’d like to talk about suicide in the American Indian culture since if this rate of occurrence continues, the civilization will almost certainly become extinct.
According to the suicide prevention resource center, suicide is defined as “the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Each year, suicide kills more people than homicide. Suicide does not discriminate—it affects people of all genders, ethnicities, and ages.” (suicideprevention) Suicide became an epidemic in the Native American community back in 1979 and it has only risen since then. In 2016 alone, suicide rates had increased by 16% from the previous year and it is now the second-leading cause of death among Native Americans aged 10-24 years old. (Centers)
While the suicide rates among Native Americans have always been higher than any other group, in recent years they have skyrocketed. Studies have shown that “the suicide rate for Native Americans is 2.5 times the national average, with Alaska Natives having the highest suicide rate of any group in the US at nearly double the national average.” (Wong)
There are many factors that attribute to why suicide rates are so high among Native Americans. Some of these include: mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, broken families/homes, and a disconnect from their culture.
Mental health is a huge issue in the Native American community and it often goes undiagnosed or untreated. This could be due to a variety of reasons such as: lack of access to mental healthcare, lack of insurance, fear or mistrust of western medicine, and the stigma attached to mental illness. A lot of times mental health issues go undiagnosed because people in the community don’t even know that what they are experiencing is a mental illness.
For example, “a survey of American Indian and Alaska Native adults found that only 46% believed that depression was a medical condition that required treatment.” (Wong) This lack of knowledge can be extremely detrimental to someone’s health because it prevents them from seekings help and getting the treatment they need.
Not only is there a lack of understanding about mental health in general, but there is also a huge stigma attached to it. In many cultures, talking about mental health is seen as a sign of weakness. This is especially true in the Native American community where there is a huge emphasis on being strong and resilient. This stigma prevents people from seeking help because they are afraid of being seen as weak or crazy. As a result, many people suffer in silence which can lead to disastrous consequences.
It’s not just mental health issues that contribute to the suicide epidemic in Native American communities, drug and alcohol abuse play a role as well. “Substance abuse disorders are about 50% higher among AI/AN adults compared to the general US population.” (Wong)
This is a significant contributing factor because substance abuse is often used as a way to self-medicate. People who are struggling with mental illness may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to numb the pain or escape from reality. This can obviously have very negative consequences and often leads to addiction which can be extremely difficult to break.
Another factor that contributes to suicide in Native American communities is bullying. Unfortunately, bullying is a huge problem in schools and it often goes unreported. “In one study, AI/AN youth were 2.5 times more likely to experience physical violence and 1.5 times more likely to experience property victimization than white youth.” (Wong) This is a significant issue because bullying can often lead to feelings of isolation, worthlessness, and suicide.