Suicide in Native Americans


When we do our assessments of patients as they come in for a nurse visit, we not only look at their potential physical ailments and causes but also their psychological issues. Although most of the time, we do not have the extra time to really dig deeper into their mental health issues during these short visit. There is a middle-aged woman who comes in monthly for her Vitamin B-12 injections and she will talk about losing her son around the holidays (her teen aged son had committed suicide a couple of years ago) and one will quickly notice that she has a definite flat affect as she talks.

Assessment of the physical as well as the mental health of a patient is all part of the nursing assessment we perform daily as we care for our patients. We even apply this skill to those we meet and talk to on a daily basis. A very good friend of mine has a grandson who lives with her on a Native American Reservation in Montana. He is only 22 years old but has tried to commit suicide twice in the last year. Did anyone see this coming? No. Fortunately, he always called his grandmother before it was too late. This young male unfortunately falls into one of the ever-increasing statistics of Native American males between the ages of 15 to 24 who are committing suicide (In the Know Zone, 2005).

According to a recent article by Becky Shay of the Billings Gazette (April, 2005), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Montana has stepped up to the plate and started addressing the high incidence of suicide among Native American teens in Montana. Additionally, on the “In the Know” World Wide Web site (2005), information was presented on teen suicide and it noted that, “Native Americans account for a relatively small percentage of the suicide totals, but have a disproportionately high rate of suicide – 1.5 times the national average.

The suicide profile among American Indians and Alaska Natives also skews toward youth. Males age 15 to 24 account for 64 percent of Native American suicides. There is a significant variation in suicide among the various Native American tribes. In some, the rate is five times the national average.
In the Know Zone

Assessing mental health should be part of any nurse’s routine assessment when evaluating patients.


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