Focus on American Indian Youth During Suicide Prevention Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Throughout the month, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members will unite to engage the general public about suicide prevention and the ways we publicly invest in suicide prevention efforts.

For almost forty years, Montana has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Death by suicide among non-Native populations peaks in older adulthood, whereas suicide among Native populations peaks during adolescence. In Montana, American Indian youth are almost four times more likely to die by suicide than their white counterparts.

Youth suicidal risk assessments for 2015 show that urban-residing American Indian youth consistently outscored reservation-residing American Indian youth in risk behaviors such as seriously considering, planning, and attempting suicide. In April we published a report Indian Country Suicide Prevention: A Critical investment in Our Communities, where you can find more information about American Indian suicide rates in Montana.

Montana’s staggering statistics, especially among American Indian youth, warrant a serious investment and should be a priority for the state of Montana.

In 2013, the Montana Legislature established the first suicide mortality review team of its kind in order to review every suicide death in an attempt to identify specific causes and tailor prevention efforts accordingly. Two years later, Governor Bullock developed an initiative to reduce suicide among Native American youth in Montana, securing $250,000 through the legislature.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) began efforts with a formal tribal consultation, which evolved into a statewide coalition meeting in order to develop a strategic plan. The Montana Native Youth Suicide Reduction Strategic Plan is the result of the coalition and Governor’s efforts in 2015, which was presented to state officials in January 2017.

During the 2017 session, several bills were proposed to confront the suicide epidemics among American Indians, veterans, Native youth and at-risk Montana communities. Ultimately, the Governor signed a bill to allocate $1 million for suicide prevention efforts through 2019.

This month is a time for us to consider how we invest in our most important resource: our fellow Montanans – and especially our youth. To get involved, check out your local newspaper for details on activities and events happening in your area.

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