The federal government published a report this past month that finds that Native American youth have a much higher risk of suicide than other racial or ethnic groups in the U.S. The report states “the suicide rate was 34 per 100,000 among male American Indians and Alaskan Natives aged 18 to 24. That's higher than white males, blacks, Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders.” For women the rate was “10 per 100,000 for female American Indians and Alaskan Natives, nearly twice the rate found among white females.”

David Patterson, assistant professor of social work at Washington University St. Louis, says, “suicide has been a decades-long problem for this group.” Dr. Patterson attributes the high suicide rates with the high poverty levels seen among this group.

Jacque Gray, associate director and research associate professor at the University of North Dakota, attributes the high suicide rate to bullying. Additionally, he states, “there’s a lack of identity… Natives have lost spirituality, their land, their culture.”

In hopes of curbing these numbers, Native American communities are trying to reconnect the youth with their traditions, a sense of community, and promoting “self-healing.” Dr. Gray also discusses the approach of training those in the community to seek out those individuals at risk by recognizing certain patterns of behavior. A current hurdle is connecting these community members to at-risk youth who are often disconnected from the community.

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