There is an ongoing “epidemic” of youth suicide in Indian Country.

The latest article on this very troubling issue comes from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, in Montana.

The article examines the suicide outbreak among Native American children because suicide is the second-leading cause of death behind unintentional injuries among American Indian children and young adults, and is on the rise, according to the Indian Health Service.

“On the Fort Peck reservation, five children killed themselves during the 2009-2010 school year at Poplar Middle School – and 20 more 7th and 8th graders tried to take their own lives.

Emergency teams from the US Public Health Service descended upon Fort Peck last June after Sioux and Assiniboine leaders declared a crisis. The teams provided counselling and mental health services to assist the overworked counsellors and strained resources of the reservation.

No suicides were recorded in the 90-day deployment of the federal health team. When they packed their bags in October and left a detailed report with recommendations, the Indian Health Service declared the crisis had passed.

But it pro­ved to be only a lull. Two more teenagers have killed themselves since October and dozens of other children across the reservation have tried. . . .

Like many reservations, it is struggling with high unemployment, estimated to be 28 per cent in 2008, and rampant substance abuse. The problems of the reservation are already pronounced in the schools.
Poplar school officials told the federal health team that more than a third of middle-school students tested positive for sexually transmitted diseases, at least one-fifth of 5th graders drink alcohol weekly and 12 per cent of high school girls are pregnant. The dropout rate is 40 per cent. But despite those devastating numbers, there does not appear to be a predictable pattern to the suicides. Children at Fort Peck Middle School cite bullying and peer pressure as big factors in the deaths of friends. . . .

An eagerly anticipated report on suicides from the federal intervention team landed as a disappointment to the community, detailing problems at the reservation that everybody already knew: mental health services are lacking, violent crime rages, people live in dire economic conditions and in broken homes. . .

The report did include some practical recommendations, such as creating a safe house for suicidal kids instead of locking them up in a jail cell. But those ideas weren’t accompanied with funding.
More is needed, said Patty McGeshick, director of the Family Violence Resource Centre. Counsellors are still overwhelmed and unable to properly deal with the crisis, she said. “It’s like trying to put a Band-Aid on an infection through your whole body.” . . .

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