Government News
APA, AACAP Suggest Ways to Reduce High Suicide Rates in Native Americans
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 12 page 6-6

There is a critical need for suicide screening and prevention efforts among American Indian youth, according to APA and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). The two organizations made this point in a joint statement submitted to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee for a hearing in May.

The hearing was held to bring attention to the high rate of suicide among American-Indian youth and to highlight proposed solutions to the problem. According to the Indian Health Service, 33.9 per 100,000 American-Indian youth commit suicide each year, which is 2.5 times the national rate for all youth.

Government officials, mental health care advocates, and psychiatric and mental health professionals were some of those who testified at the hearing.

In the statement, APA and AACAP endorsed a series of recommendations to improve access to mental health treatment in American Indian communities, increase funding for programs that provide screening and treatment services, and propel legislation to ameliorate the shortage of child and adolescent mental health professionals.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Indian-American youth, according to the statement, and risk factors for American Indian youth include substance abuse, a lack of social support, and depression.

"American-Indian youth are also at higher risk of suicide due to intergenerational trauma, including loss of parents and relatives to suicide, which adds to a lack of social support in many Indian American communities for youth," the statement read.

Unique among American-Indian communities are barriers to treatment arising in part from the separation of health services from state and federal programs. Such separation "often prevents Native Americans from receiving comprehensive, integrated treatment for mental health, alcoholism, substance abuse, and other general medical care."

In addition, APA and AACAP proclaimed the nationwide shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists and other mental health professionals a" severe" problem for American Indians and called for the enactment of the Child Health Care Crisis Relief Act (S 537/HR 1106), which seeks to increase the number of professionals providing mental health treatment to children and adolescents.

Since a number of Indian reservations are located in geographically remote areas, some Indian families must travel for hours to access mental health treatment, the statement pointed out. However, the situation may soon improve: APA and AACAP endorsed the Senate passage of the Indian Youth Telemental Health Demonstration Act in May. The bill authorizes $1.5 million each year from 2007 to 2010 to use electronic technology to support long-distance mental health care aimed at preventing suicides among American Indian youth.

APA and AACAP made a number of recommendations in the joint statement to reduce the prevalence of suicide among American Indian youth. Among them:

The APA-AACAP statement is posted at<www.psych.org/members/download.cfm?file=1216>.

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