U.S. suicide rates soar with Indigenous Women particularly vulnerable

U.S. suicide rates have reached the highest level since World War II.

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Image credit: Indigenous Environmental Network

US suicide rates have skyrocketed, reaching the highest they’ve been since World War II. Sadly, indigenous men and women are particularly affected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state. In 2016 alone nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and one of only three leading causes of death that is on the rise.

“Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans – and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “From individuals and communities to employers and healthcare professionals, everyone can play a role in efforts to help save lives and reverse this troubling rise in suicide.”

Percentage increases vary by state, with an increase of just under 6 percent in Delaware to over 57 percent in North Dakota. Twenty-five states had suicide rate increases of more than 30 percent.

The suicide rate was 33% higher in 2017 than in 1999. The increase was seen in both men and women and among all races and ethnicities, however, indigenous women saw the highest rate – a whopping increase of 139%. Indigenous men were also affected, their rate increase 71%. The majority of suicides in the indigenous community are among young people, ages 15 to 44.

Suicide risk among American Indian/Alaskan Native people includes complex factors such as mental health disorders, substance abuse, intergenerational trauma, and community-wide issues, according to the Indian Health Service.

“Factors that protect AI/AN youth and young adults against suicidal behavior are a sense of belonging to one’s culture, a strong tribal/spiritual bond, the opportunity to discuss problems with family or friends, feeling connected to family, and positive emotional health.”

Unfortunately, historical trauma, chronically underfunded federal programs, and broken promises on the part of the US government contribute to the suicide crisis, especially among Indigenous Youth, says the Center for Native American Youth.

Native Americans face the highest rates of poverty of any racial group, have the lowest rates of high school graduation and the highest rates of alcoholism of any racial group.

Indigenous women face an even more alarming reality. The epidemic of violence against Indigenous Women results in them being 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence, according to the Indian Law Resource Center. These numbers may only represent a fraction of the real data, due to lack of diligent and adequate federal response.

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