Addressing Youth Suicide in Indian Country
February 19, 2009
The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) is actively working to respond to the high rates of youth suicide in Indian Country. Children who experience abuse and neglect are at higher risk for depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts according to the Center for Disease Control (2007). With suicide rates rising in Indian communities and the presence of high suicide risk factors, AI/AN youth in the child welfare system are particularly vulnerable. Children living in tribal communities are also unlikely to have access to culturally competent mental health services that will meet their needs to address the severe risks of suicide.
Nationally, an estimated 900,000 youth had made a plan to commit suicide during their worst or most recent episode of major depression, and 712,000 attempted suicide during such an episode. The date are from SAMHSA's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which asked youth ages 12-17 about symptoms of depression including thoughts about death or suicide.
Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit
NICWA is focused on the needs of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth in the child welfare system that are at risk for suicide by increasing awareness and providing technical assistance to tribal communities to implement comprehensive and culturally responsive mental health services. NICWA, National Congress of American Indians, One Sky, and other national partners worked together to host the 'American Indian and Alaska Native Summit on Suicide Prevention, Intervention, and Healing' in Temecula, CA September 2007. Seven tribal delegations, representing both tribal and urban Indian communities participated in workshops and presentations designed to enhance a policy initiative related to youth suicide prevention aimed at supporting long-term and effective change. Two tribal delegations at the Summit were awarded the Garrett Lee Smith Grant August 20, 2008.
NICWA was funded by the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation, Inc. to develop and disseminate the 'Ensuring the Seventh Generation: Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit' for child welfare and mental health programs focused on victims of abuse, children in out-of-home care, and witnesses of violence. The toolkit is to educate tribal child welfare workers of the warning signs of suicide, risk and protective factors, suicide prevention and intervention methods, and when such workers should seek professional mental health services. 300 copies will be made available to tribal child welfare programs across the country and accessible by CLICKING HERE.
Access to mental health services is significantly important to address the concerns of youth suicide. NICWA is the primary technical assistance provider for the tribal Systems of Care and Circles of Care grantees of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Since 1999, NICWA has successfully provided technical assistance to 49 funded tribal communities. Currently, NICWA provides technical assistance to a total of eight Systems of Care grantees implementing children's mental health initiatives in their community. NICWA is providing technical assistance to eight Circles of Care grantees to planning a service delivery model for mental health services.