Depression and Suicide in Native American Adolescents

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15 October 2015

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Depression and Suicide in Native American Adolescents


            The United States records the highest number of both successful suicides as well as attempted suicides on an annual basis. According to studies, 80 people commit suicide on a daily basis whereas emergency departments receive thousands of visits with cases of self-inflicted injuries (Ginsburg et al., 2008). Teenagers aged 15-24 report the highest cases of successful suicide and suicide attempts. Native American teenagers make the largest percentage of these suicides. According to Gary (2005), stress is the main reason why suicide related cases are ever on the rise in the US. This stress normally results from depression, which comes in different forms such as self-doubt, uncertainty about the future as well as strains of being successful. Apart from providing an analysis on the high rate of depression and suicide among Native American adolescents, the study talks about necessary measures that ought to be taken in a move to curb these suicide cases.


            According to studies, depression is the act of feeling sad, this occurs when one is not satisfied with a certain outcome (Walls et al., 2007). Depressions could be disastrous if not handled in the right manner. For instance, a person experiencing depression is likely to commit a heinous act if appropriate measures are not taken to curb the situation. Lack of proper attention is the reason why most Native American youths are committing suicide in the United States. According to studies, many Native American teenagers become depressed due to a number of reasons, for instance, frequent family disputes as well as poor performance in schools (CDC, 2010). Native Americans have incurred a number of problems throughout their lives. For instance, apart from exploitation, Native Americans have lived in adverse poverty for decades. This level of poverty has made it difficult for most parents to offer their children quality education since most of them live in poor and unhealthy lifestyles (Listug-Lunde, Vogeltanz-Holm & Collins, 2013).

            High rate of poverty is the main reason why many Native American adolescents end up becoming depressed. Due to poverty, youths are forced out of school, hence; they spend most of the time working for the family in addition to seeking low paying jobs in major cities. Since these youths spend most of the time outside the classroom, this result to poor performance, hence, low self-esteem (Gary, 2005). Dropping out of school is more devastating for girls compared to boys. This is because, these girls are likely to become pregnant and this makes life even more difficult for them, hence, this is the reason why girls are the most affected with depression compared to boys (NAMI, 2014). Due to the unhealthy lifestyles, Native American parents have higher chances of divorce compared to other races. Conflicts and separations among Native American parents also play a major role when it comes to depression among youths. When a family files for a divorce, life becomes even more difficult compared to how it was before the separation. It is through these challenges that most adolescents gradually develop the feeling of depression, making them commit inhumane atrocities such as suicide.


            According to studies conducted by Balis and Postolache (2008), suicide comes third among the leading causes of deaths in adolescents residing in the United States. The reason why most American Native adolescents contemplate suicide is because they tend to believe it is the only solution to the challenges they incur. There are different methods in which suicide attempts are made. For instance, apart from suffocation by hanging, other common forms of suicide include the use of poison as well as firearms (CDC, 2010). According to studies, most boys tend to use firearms when committing suicide whereas girls opt for poison or the suffocation method. According to Gilder and Ehlers (2012), most teenagers contemplate suicide after undergoing major disappointments. Apart from strained interpersonal relationships, other factors that have contributed to high incidences of suicide cases among Native American teenagers include high level of stress. According to studies, Native American adolescents are likely to undergo high levels of stress that come as a result of divorce by parents. Girls opt to commit suicide after being victims of sexual or physical abuse (Listug-Lunde, Vogeltanz-Holm & Collins, 2013).

            The reason why Native Americans have the highest reports of suicide incidences is due to the lack of good relations, which are of great importance especially during emotional changes (Gary, 2005). A good support network is essential since it acts as an outlet that helps them deal with the inner feeling. It is evident that people that are depressed commit most suicide attempts. According to studies, depression is usually considered a mental health disorder since it causes chemical imbalances within one’s brain. These imbalances result to lethargy, despondency as well as general apathy towards one’s life, hence, causing one to contemplate suicide (NAMI, 2014). Substance abuse is another main cause of suicide among Native American adolescents. Most youths start using illegal substances due to numerous challenges they undergo. Through peer pressure, youths are made to believe that drug abuse and consumption of alcohol will relieve them of their problems (Faye, 2005).

Risk factors

            Suicidal incidences never occur out of blues, these victims display a number of signs. The reason why most of the suicides are successful is that most people notice these signs but they never take any precautionary measures. Studies show that firearms are the most used weapons among teenagers that commit suicide (CDC, 2010). The reason why guns are the most used weapons is due to their easy accessibility. Apart from firearms, adolescents have access to other items such as alcohol and motor vehicles. Some of the signs shown by people contemplating suicide include sudden withdrawal from peers or family members as well as the loss of interest in activities that were pleasurable in the past. According to studies, people contemplating suicide tend to be more aggressive than usual (Gilder &Ehlers, 2012). Hence, it is the responsibility of family members and close peers to monitor people displaying such behavioral changes. These behaviors are rarely considered among the Native Americans and it is the reason why this tribe records the highest rate casualties.

            When it comes to risk factors associated with suicide attempts, one’s genetic factor also plays a major role. According to Theodora and Teodor (2008), some suicidal thoughts are usually genetic. Hence, the suicidal history of one’s family also needs to be put into consideration. Apart from behavioral changes, other factors that need consideration when focusing on risk factors includes gender, ethnicity one’s and socioeconomic status. For instance, in the case of gender and ethnicity, boys are five times likely to commit suicide compared to their female counterparts. As for age, teenagers above 20 years are more likely to commit suicide compared to those aged 12 and below. Geographically, most cases of teenage suicide and usually experienced in the western states such as Alaska (Theodora & Teodor, 2008).


            In order to reduce the rate of suicide incidences among adolescents, appropriate intervention measures ought to be considered. For instance, families and peers need to monitor each other in a move to identify any behavioral changes that might arise. Early identification of behavioral changes is quite beneficial since it minimizes chances of successful suicidal attempts. Apart from monitoring behavioral changes, identification and minimization of risk factors is also of great importance. For instance, limiting the access of firearms as well as alcohol and drugs will result to a reduction in suicidal attempts (Theodora & Teodor, 2008). Youths need to be encouraged to participate in physical activities since it tends to reduce one’s thoughts of contemplating suicide. Youths under the influence of drugs require proper attention since they are likely to commit heinous acts such as committing suicide. Such people ought to be placed under psychological or clinical care where they are to undergo rehabilitation programs (NAMI, 2014).

            Family support plays a major role when it comes to minimizing the rate of youth suicidal attempts. Through family support, youths feel wanted and this results to minimal suicidal thoughts. Lack of family support increases the chances of suicidal attempts since these youths tend to believe that they are not wanted; this is because they do not feel the parental love (Gilder & Ehlers, 2012). Another intervention measure is by educating youths about religious believes. Teaching teenagers about the Bible and God’s teaching will minimize suicidal attempts (Theodora & Teodor, 2008). This is because adolescents will realize that they are the children of God who loves them and will not be happy when they commit suicide since he has good plans for them. Though the Bible, teenagers will also learn how to pray to God and ask for strengths in times of temptations. Similarly, urgent medical attention needs to be sought on youths that are undergoing depression (NAMI, 2014).


            Cases of teenage suicide in the US are ever on the rise. According to studies, 80 people commit suicide on a daily basis, most of them Native American teenagers. Stress is one main factor that causes most youths to contemplate suicide. Most American Native youths become stressed after they drop out of school due to poverty, physical and sexual abuse as well as family wrangles such as divorce. Apart from suffocation by hanging, other common forms of suicide include poisoning and the use of firearms. In order to minimize the rate of youth suicide, a number of risk factors ought to be put into consideration. For instance, apart from behavioral changes, family members need to look out for other traits such sudden withdrawal from family members and peers in addition to the sudden loss of interest in activities that were pleasurable in the past. Some of the intervention measures required in a move to curb youth suicide include the monitoring of behavioral changes, limiting the access of firearms and alcohol and seeking medical attention of youths experiencing depression. Finally, educating youths about the Bible and how to pray whenever they are faced with temptations will also reduce youth’s suicidal attempts.


Balis, T. & Postolache, T. (2008). “Ethnic Differences in Adolescent Suicide in the United States.” NCBI. 1(3): 281–296. Retrieved on 9 December 2014 from

Gary, F. A. (2005). Perspectives on Suicide Prevention among American Indian and Alaska Native Children and Adolescents: A Call for Help. Online Journal of Issues In Nursing, 10(2), 170-211. Retrieved on 9 December 2014 from

Gilder, D.& Ehlers, C. (2012). “Depression Symptoms Associated with Cannabis Dependence in an Adolescent American Indian Community Sample.” NCBI.21(6): 536–543. Retrieved on 9 December 2014 from

Ginsburg, G. S., Baker, E. V., Mullany, B. C., Barlow, A., Goklish, N., Hastings, R., &Walkup, J. (2008). Depressive Symptoms Among Reservation-based Pregnant American Indian Adolescents. Maternal & Child Health Journal, 12110-118. doi:10.1007/s10995-008-0352-2

Listug-Lunde, L., Vogeltanz-Holm, N., & Collins, J. (2013). A Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment For Depression In Rural American Indian Middle School Students. American Indian &Alaska Native Mental Health Research: The Journal Of The National Center, 20(1), 16-34

NAMI. (2014). Mental Illness. Retrieved on 9 December 2014 from

Walls, M. L., Chapple, C. L., & Johnson, K. D. (2007). Strain, Emotion, and Suicide among American Indian Youth. Deviant Behavior, 28(3), 219-246. doi:10.1080/01639620701233100

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StudyScroll. (2015). Depression and Suicide in Native American Adolescents [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 2 October, 2022]

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"Depression and Suicide in Native American Adolescents" StudyScroll, Oct 15, 2015.

"Depression and Suicide in Native American Adolescents" StudyScroll, 15-Oct-2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 2-Oct-2022]

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