Suicide Crisis Continues Among Native Youth on Reservations

Native youth are more than three times more likely to commit suicide than any other group.

By Von Diaz Mar 10, 2014

Domestic violence, poverty, substance abuse, unemployment, and what some experts describe as "pervasive despair" mark the lives of many young Native people living on reservations, which many say leads to higher suicide rates among these youth. A recent report from the Washington Post tells the chilling stories of places like Gila River Indian reservation–where eight young people ended their lives in just one year, and Spirit Lake Nation–where a 14-year-old killed herself after laying in bed for three months following her father’s and sister’s suicides.

Native youth are more than three times more likely to commit suicide (a number that increases to more than 10 times on some reservations), and have post traumatic stress symptoms on par with Iraq War veterans. Experts say in addition to these factors, a "trail of broken promises" adds to a feeling of hopelessness, as do the experiences many youth have in public schools off the reservation, where they often face abuse, bullying, and sexual violence. But advocates also point to changes in some Native American cultures, once extremely protective of youth, that have diminished as tribes are pressured to assimilate. 

Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon, and Native youth suicide rates appear to be holding steady. Institutions such as the Aspen Institute Center for Native American Youth and the recently formed DOJ American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Children Exposed to Violence task force are both working to address the suicide crisis in this community, though the federal task force has yet to share findings or provide recommendations for helping Native communities cope with these tragedies and prevent future suicides. 

(h/t Washington Post)