The U.S. suicide rate is up 33 percent since 1999, but for American Indian and Alaska Native women and men, the increase is even greater: 139 percent and 71 percent, respectively, according to an analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Native communities experience higher rates of suicide compared to all other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., with suicide being the eighth leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives across all ages. For Native youth ages 10 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death; and the Native youth suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the overall national average, making these rates the highest across all ethnic and racial groups.
American Indian and Alaska Native women experience higher levels of violence than other U.S. women. Nearly 84 percent experience violence in their lifetime, according to a 2016 report from the National Institute of Justice. Research shows more than a third of women who have been raped have contemplated suicide, and 13 percent have attempted, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. American Indian and Alaska Natives also experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general population, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Historical disenfranchisement through genocide and institutional racism has resulted in American Indians and Alaska Natives experiencing poorer health and socioeconomic outcomes. These social determinants of health intersect to create a situation that is detrimental to the physical and mental health of Indian communities. Cultural disconnection, alienation and pressure to assimilate all contribute to higher rates of suicide among American Indians and Alaska Natives.
In partnership with the National Council of Urban Indian Health, the Action Alliance’s American Indian/Alaska Native Task Force put forward a resolution, passed by the National Congress of American Indians in 2015, creating the annual National American Indian and Alaska Native Hope for Life Day. The purpose of the resolution was to request a U.S. presidential proclamation that a National AI/AN Hope for Life Day would be held each year on September 10, which is during Suicide Prevention Week.
Although a presidential proclamation still has not been achieved, this resolution advances the strategy of engaging Indian communities in healing through National American Indian and Alaska Native Hope for Life Day. The goal of the observance is to highlight the disparities in suicide between Indian people and other groups in order to empower change, create hope and engage Native youth, tribal leaders and Indian communities.
People often don’t get the mental health services they need because they don’t know where to start. Talk to your primary care doctor or another health professional about mental health problems. Ask them to connect you with the right mental health services.
If you don’t have a health professional who can assist you, you can contact SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727). You can get general information on mental health, locate treatment services in your area and speak to a live person Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. If the situation is potentially life-threatening, get immediate emergency assistance by calling 911, available 24 hours a day.
If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline via 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or live online chat. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your confidential, toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.