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