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How Native American Culture Helps Youth Fight Suicide

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Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. Nearly 46,000 Americans will die from suicide in 2020 alone, according to data.

Sacramento, CA — September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, “This is the month to raise awareness about this stigmatized and often taboo topic. We will share important information with those affected.”

Data show that suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020 alone, nearly 46,000 Americans died by suicide, and there were about 1.2 million suicide attempts in the same year.

It’s no secret that suicide affects all cultures, races, ethnicities and lives.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Native American youth ages 10 to 20, according to Julie Fuentes, care coordinator supervisor at the Sacramento Native American Health Center.

“We also know that suicide rates among Native American adults are about 20% higher than other ethnic groups, but we also know that culture has always been a resilience factor in Native American communities,” says Fuentes. says Mr.

An article published by the National Indian Council on Aging, Inc. in 2019 noted high rates of suicide in Indian counties and also hinted at cultural influences.

Culture and suicide prevention

Angelina Hinojosa, a member of the Pinorville Pomo Nation, said, “Being a young person in today’s generation is a bit difficult, so suicide prevention is important to me.

ABC10 spoke with Angelina last year about Native American growth. Back then (and to this day) she remains one of Sacramento’s Native American youth advocates.

“What is suicide prevention? We hear it all the time, but this month is important. What does mental health look like? , is important because we want to focus on those who need that help,” she said.

One of the things Julie foresaw, helping Angelina, is the centralization of culture in Native American communities.

Angelina said, “Culture is definitely what puts me back and brings me back. OK, I shouldn’t be doing these things.” , the culture supports me, like going to ceremonies on the weekends and talking to elders.”

Julie further elaborated on this topic by pointing out that culture is also a factor in resilience.

“Native community culture has always been a resilience factor for Native American communities,” she said. “Studies show that culture is highly associated with positive mental health and is effective in improving community outcomes.”

Watch Julie explain the relationship between culture and positive mental health below.

She also noted the growing support in the Native American youth community to break the stigma of staying silent on the topic of mental health and suicide.

“One of our leaders recently said something very important to me: Our youth are changing… changing the mental health narrative and actively removing mental health stigma. and in regular conversations, they speak openly,” said Julie. “They identify emotions and boundaries. increase.

Historical Trauma in Native American Communities

When talking about mental health, suicide, or other health issues in Native American communities, it is important to be aware of and acknowledge the historical trauma faced by Indian Country.

According to the National Indian Council on Aging, Inc., “Historical disenfranchisement due to genocide and institutional racism Deteriorating Health Status and Socioeconomic Outcomes of Native Americans and Alaska NativesThese social determinants of health intersect to create conditions that are detrimental to the physical and mental health of Indian communities. Cultural disconnect, marginalization, and pressure to assimilate all contribute to high suicide rates among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. “

Leticia Aguilar; who holds many positions, including director of the Native Dads Network, founder of the Native Sister Circle, and mother of three children, explores how history impacts Indian country today. I talked briefly with ABC10 about the dolphins.

“There was a time[once]when our people connected with Mother Earth and lived in connection with each other before coming into contact,” said Laetitia. “When we experience historical trauma, genocide, all of these historical factors come into our community and we don’t want to talk about it when it happens. It created trauma for our people. , whether you know it or not, is directly affected.”

She pointed to epigenetics as defined by the CDC. This is the study of how your behavior and environment trigger changes that affect how your genes work.

“Sometimes we struggle with these mental health issues and I don’t know why, but it’s in our DNA as people of our tribe because of the genocide and all the horrible things that happened to our ancestors. Only,” she said.

SNAHC and suicide prevention

The Sacramento Native American Health Center, like many other organizations in the city, provides a place for people to seek help, talk, and learn about how to improve themselves. One of SNAHC’s programs specifically for young people is Native Youth Ambassadors.

“Our Native Youth Ambassadors work with our communications department on suicide prevention campaigns … putting our face in the community, using our youth, families and communities as that face, and promoting mental health , removing the stigma of suicide and using their voices and faces in that campaign, which is very important,” Julie said. rice field.

Click for more information on the SNAHC program and its offerings. here.

message to young people

Through interviews with Angelina, Julie, and Leticia, it was clear that suicide was a problem in Indian country, but the topic should not be just numbers, but how culture, community, and family play an important role in prevention. is.

From ceremonies, traditional songs and dances, Native American youth and adults find hope and strength in traditional values ​​passed down from generation to generation.

When asked what to say to young people, Angelina said: Not alone, they have a place in this world. When they feel that way, they turn to substances our bodies can’t process scientifically, so definitely accept them and just say you belong somewhere.


If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 or visit to contact the Suicide and Crisis Hotline. Click here for additional resources available from the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Extended interview:

clock: Sacramento Native American Youth Talks About Indigenous Growth