A new dawn of suicide awareness – The Native struggle

    September 1st marked the 15th annual National Suicide Prevention Month. Since 2008, September has been a time to acknowledge those affected by suicide, raise awareness, and connect individuals with treatment services.

    According to the CDC, in 2021 more than 48,000 individuals died by suicide. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 3rd leading cause of death among people aged 15-24 and these rates are increasing. 2021 Suicide Data indicates that Wyoming is again #1 for suicide deaths per capita (

    Depression and suicide affect people of all ages and populations, but Native American and Alaskan Native populations can be at a higher risk due to historical trauma, adverse childhood experiences, lack of connection to necessary resources, ongoing poverty in the community, and higher levels of alcohol and substance use. Suicide rates are up to three times higher among Native American and Alaska Native people than among any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. 

    American Indian/Alaska Native males had the 2nd highest suicide rate in the US in 2021. American Indian/Alaska Native people as a whole had the highest suicide rate. Suicide rates increased by 15% for American Indian/Alaska Natives from 2020 to 2021 (14.6 to 16.8).

    If you are struggling, there are ways to cope right now.

    It’s important to recognize the warning signs and risk factors of someone who may be considering suicide. Starting a conversation with the person may save their life.

    Learn to recognize the warning signs:

    • Hopelessness; feeling like there is no way out
    • Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
    • Feeling like there is no reason to live
    • Rage or anger
    • Engaging in risky activities
    • Increasing alcohol or drug abuse
    • Withdrawing from family and friends
    • Sleeping too little or too much
    • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
    • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
    • Extreme mood swings

    The presence of any of the following signs requires immediate attention:

    • Thinking about hurting or killing themselves
    • Reading or seeking information on ways to die
    • Talking about death, dying, or suicide
    • Showing hopelessness or expressing that they have no reason to live
    • Talking about feeling trapped, being in unbearable pain, or being a burden to others
    • Self-destructive or risk-taking behavior, especially when it involves alcohol, drugs, or weapons

    Risk Factors:

    • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
    • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
    • Hopelessness
    • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
    • History of trauma or abuse
    • Major physical illnesses
    • Previous suicide attempt(s)
    • The stigma associated with asking for help
    • Lack of health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
    • Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
    • Family history of suicide
    • Job or financial loss
    • Loss of relationship(s)
    • Easy access to lethal means
    • Local clusters of suicide
    • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
    • Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet)

    Additional Risk Factors For American Indian/Alaska Native People

    • History of interpersonal violence/abuse
    • Unwillingness to seek help because of stigma related to mental health, substance abuse disorders, or suicidal thoughts
    • Unemployment
    • Alcohol misuse/abuse
    • Economic instability and social disintegration
    • Perceived discrimination
    • Isolation on reservations, feeling cut off from other people
    • Local epidemics of suicide (called “Suicide Clusters”)

    The reality is that suicide is preventable, and help is available. Learning how to have a productive conversation with someone considering suicide is an important first step in getting them the help they need. Indian Health Service offers some great tips for just that.

    Ask directly about suicide. Ask the question in a way that gives you a “yes” or “no” answer. Don’t wait to ask the question when the person is halfway out the door. Asking directly and using the word “suicide” establishes that you and the at-risk person are talking about the same thing, and lets them know you are not afraid to talk about it.

    • Talk openly
    • Don’t panic
    • Be willing to listen and allow emotional expression
    • Recognize that the situation is serious
    • Don’t pass judgment
    • Reassure that help is available
    • Don’t promise secrecy
    • Don’t leave the person alone

    Get them the help they need. There are so many great resources that can be utilized for free. For a list of available resources in Fremont County, click here.

    Share available resources with the person. Be willing to make the call, or take part in the call to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 (text), 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or on the 988 Chat page. The toll-free confidential Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Research has shown that culture-based approaches can work to leverage strengths within Tribal communities and protect against suicide, especially among youth. Click here for resources. Click here to find other resources for Native American and Alaska Native populations.

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