Native Americans need to put aside their qualms about discussing suicide – which claims Native American youths at a rate three times that of the U.S. population – and take personal responsibility for helping young people find constructive ways to overcome problems, Santa Ana Pueblo Lt. Gov. Earnest Lujan says.
“Kids learn by example,” Lujan told about 200 participants at a conference earlier this week. “When we show hostility, kids learn to fight. If we show approval, they learn to like themselves, and they learn to like each other.”
Members of a suicide-prevention task force presented a “tool kit” intended to offer tribal communities a way to respond quickly and effectively when someone commits suicide or expresses suicidal thoughts.
The first step requires “buy-in” from tribal leaders and identifying a list of key leaders in the community who can respond effectively to a crisis, said Robyn Atencio, a Pueblo of Cochiti social worker who helped develop the plan.
“You have got to research your communities,” Atencio said. “What is the plan if someone in the community is suicidal?”
In 2008-10, Native Americans ages 15 to 24 committed suicide at a rate of 30 per 100,000, a rate three times that of all Americans in that age group, according to New Mexico Department of Health Data. For all New Mexicans ages 15 to 24, the rate was 20 per 100,000.
A suicide-response plan should include forming a core work group, Atencio said, and holding a kick-off meeting that draws together government officials, health professionals, educators, police, spiritual leaders and others. Young people, she said, need to be involved in suicide prevention because they are often the first to become aware of crisis.
A group of students from the Santa Fe Indian School said they attended the conference at Santa Ana on Thursday because one of their classmates was among an estimated 10 youths who took their own lives in the Thoreau area in eastern McKinley County from late 2009 through 2010. At least 14 others attempted suicide during the crisis.
“We really didn’t notice that she was having problems,” Victoria Naranjo, 17, said of her late classmate. “I think if she had known who to go to, maybe she wouldn’t have committed suicide.”
Naranjo and others said they have since learned about warning signs of suicidal thoughts, such as lack of appetite, self-inflicted cuts and symptoms of depression.
Young people need to watch out for the well-being of classmates and intervene if possible, said Francesca DeAguero, 17, also a senior at Santa Fe Indian School. “Teens can help other teens,” she said.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal