Mental Health & Suicide Prevention
in Native American & Tribal Communities

The enduring legacy of colonization, displacement, and family separation continue to impact Native communities’ wellness and create barriers to accessing support.

Native American and tribal communities face unique barriers to accessing care, including:

  • Inadequate funding for tribal governments
  • Distrust of government services stemming from centuries of colonization, displacement, family separation, and broken treaties
  • Lack of providers with cultural competence and responsivity concerning Native and tribal communities

Our tribal partners often say, “Culture is Prevention, is Treatment, is Wellness, is Life” – with the belief that those who are connected to community and traditional practices can heal together.

Suicide Risk and Prevention

Suicide rates are higher among Native American populations than among any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.
Among American Indians and Alaska Natives, suicide rates peak during adolescence and young adulthood, then decline. This is a different pattern than is seen in the general United States population, in which suicide rates peak mid-life.

Important protective factors in preventing suicide among Native American communities include:

  • Community control and autonomy
  • Cultural identification
  • Spirituality
  • Family connectedness

Native Americans are at higher risk for suicide than the general population, but suicide rates vary widely across tribal communities. Each Native community has different mental health challenges and ways of coping with them. Involving Native people in prevention efforts can help ensure programs leverage local resources to meet the needs of the community.

Racism and Discrimination Impact Our Mental Health

Many external factors can affect a person’s mental health, including:

  • Financial status
  • Racism and discrimination
  • Systemic barriers in healthcare, housing, food security, and education
  • Community violence & loss
  • Separation from family or loved ones

Struggling with any of these can negatively affect our mental health, and in some cases lead to trauma.

Research also shows that trauma can be passed down through families. For Native communities and others that have historically experienced oppression and violence, that trauma can affect people generations later. Many Native American communities continue to feel the impacts of the enduring legacy of colonization, displacement, and family separation.

Support is Available

Advocating for culturally responsive healthcare, including mental health access and expertise, is imperative to improve outcomes in our communities. Lines for Life’s Cultural Engagement programs partner with community organizations to provide training and support and create networks of culturally responsive services throughout Oregon and beyond.