Let the conversation begin.
Our gratitude to Brandi Douglas, a volunteer LGBTQIA mental health advocate and blogger for Hope Xchange, who also is a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, for her guest post this week.
Suicide Among Young Native Americans Nearly Double National Rate
For many individuals, envisioning what the Native American population is up to nowadays seems like a hazy, uneducated discussion. Are they riding along the plains on their horses, war cries being hollered, as characterized in the black and white movies of past? Are they huddled around a fire, passing around a peace pipe and telling creation stories? Or are they relaxing, feet kicked up, reaping the benefits of their tribe’s casino revenue? They simply must be thriving, right?
However romanticized and often skewed the idea around the Native American’s current experience is, there is one that not many Non-Native individuals are talking about: the Native community and suicide. According to Santhanam and Krigger (2015), research by the Center for Disease control indicates a staggering 22.5% of every 100,000 deaths in the Native American community is attributed to suicide, which is practically double the national average. Among those suicides, young men between the ages of 15-24 are the most affected.
As Someone Born Into This Community, I See The Trauma
I remember hearing about this epidemic that had been sweeping through Indian country a few years ago and was not surprised. I was born into this community. As someone who works on the reservation every day, I see how people continue to struggle with feelings of desensitization.
Native peoples have endured trauma for years. Condemned as savages, Native children were ripped from their families and sent to boarding schools to disseminate from all they had ever known. Their language was spat upon and slowly phased out. Treaties were established by the government and abruptly violated. They have constantly been viewed as “less than.” To this day, Native peoples continually struggle to preserve their culture.
Trauma Does Not Set Like Sun After Long Day
Trauma is not a thing that sets like the sun after a long day. It is carried in the hearts and souls of people for years to come, a dark and looming cloud.
About five years ago, I heard about a girl who was getting ready to graduate high school. She had excelled academically and was even crowned the daffodil princess for her school. There was no outward indication that she was facing struggles of her own, at least to much of her community. However, one day she was discovered alone in her home and had taken her life.
As much of an epidemic suicide is for Native peoples, my heart was heavy that day. What road was her heart and mind on, opposed to the one her community may have seen her walking? What experiences of trauma had she carried with her?
Attempting To Drown Trauma With Drugs And Alcohol
Trauma does not latch itself onto an “ideal individual,” showcasing itself in any specific way. Wherein the struggles of some individuals are more outwardly evident than others.
Another way in which the trauma of a peoples has been evident and perhaps exacerbated is through drug and alcohol addiction. The longstanding joke with regards to Native peoples is the “drunken Indian,” firewater in his/her hand, stumbling about. This long curtailed image of the Native person sadly remains.
The urge to indulge in these substances continues to originate from a root. A root that struggles to be recognized and addressed. Can we consider, for a moment, all of those Native peoples considering suicide who are also partaking in these substances as a way to cope? Yes, they are still here with us, but for how much longer?
If Suicide Such An Issue, Why Aren’t They Seeking Help?
If suicide is such an issue, you might think, why isn’t help being sought? Why isn’t the Native community being more active about this? Although the answer appears simple, it absolutely is not. According to John (2016), as is customary with many persons of color, there are many factors serving as tremendous hurdles, including:
The Belief Securing Treatment Is Easy Is Far From The Truth
As much as individuals who haven’t been exposed to the mental health community might want to believe securing treatment is easy, that belief is far from the truth. Imagine the sheer exacerbation of struggling with an illness and then having to go down the list of the above mentioned hurdles?
I cannot speak for those who have struggled continuously to find help and who have then ceased to pursue a resolution out of frustration. However, as someone who is a part of the Native community, I can consciously choose to live with open eyes, an open heart and an open mind. Recognition that disparity exists is the perfect catalyst towards change. Armed with information, we are better suited towards addressing these issues for the betterment and longevity of all peoples.