Suicide (noun): the act of killing yourself because you do not want to continue living.
The word “suicide” might make people a little uncomfortable, but we are all affected by suicide in one way or another. Chances are we all know of someone who has attempted or completed suicide. Recently, the death of actor Robin Williams reminded us that suicide does not discriminate—you can be old, young, poor or rich. We shouldn’t wait for a tragedy to hit home in order for us to do something.
Suicide has been attempted and completed within the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community within the past year. According to the Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition (ASPC), there are an estimated 25 attempts for every completion in the nation, and each suicide intimately affects at least six other people.
“[Suicide is] one of the most difficult things to hear, especially in tribal communities. We believe that we are very strong, resilient and that Him-dag (our way of life or journey) is going to take care of us. But the reality is that in the last year and half, we’ve had three completed suicides and a number of attempts that have been made. This is a very serious issue. [This is] something that we can’t assume will take care of itself; we have to educate ourselves,” said Community Health Educator Debbie Manuel.
Let’s do the math. Using ASPC’s theory on suicide, take three completed suicides and multiply that by 25 attempts. This shows that there have been approximately 75 attempts within the last year and a half here on the community (these numbers do not include suicide ideations, or thoughts only). Now take the three completed suicides and multiply that by six intimately affected people. That gives us 18 people who were intimately affected by suicide on the Community over the last 18 months.
Suicide rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives are the highest among ethnic groups, followed by non-Hispanic whites. Why do you think suicide rates are the highest in Indian Country?
According to Behavioral Health staff, some of the main issues within the Community that may lead to suicide are dealing with the foster care system, children who have to move away from their families, relationship break-ups, not being able to handle the intense friendships that form, substance abuse, bullying, and, most commonly, financial hardship.
“I think those really basic things are the same things that keep coming up,” said Manuel. “What I’ve seen this past year is that many people have this ‘be tough’ attitude in families to normalize those behaviors.” But, she said, we can’t think of suicidal thoughts or attempts as being normal behavior in our homes; instead, we need to be more thoughtful and listen. Something as simple as listening or understanding can help save a life.
American Indians do have that “be-tough” attitude, and expressing feelings or weakness has not been acceptable in most cases. But times are changing rapidly. If suicide rates are continuing to rise, this shows that what we were doing isn’t working. We need more effective strategies.
Recognizing warning signs or feelings that are out of the ordinary is a key factor in prevention. If you notice anything strange, or if it just doesn’t add up, ask questions, understand and listen to the individual. Don’t be judgmental; just listen. Those who are suffering need to know that you care.