Suicide in Indian country is not an uncommon issue as tribes continue to work on improving the staggering statistics. According to the Suicide Prevention Action Network, suicide ranked as the second leading cause of death for American Indians/Alaska Natives ages 10 to 34. From 1999 to 2004 AI/AN males 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 27.99 per 100,000, compared to the second highest of 17.54 per 100,000 for whites.
Tribal leaders, Senators and health professionals have addressed the issue head on and many have introduced programs to help within their states or reservations. One Senator who continues to work towards better odds is Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.
With more than 200 federally recognized tribes in her state alone, she has co-sponsored the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2011. The bipartisan bill would extend funds, services and resources to the state’s at-risk youth communities and strengthen state, tribal and college campus suicide prevention efforts.
“Alaska’s children are our most valuable natural resource – and they’re threatened by an epidemic of suicide,” Murkowski said. “Thousands of Alaskans stood up and chose respect last week, but the first step is to teach and help our children to respect themselves. I’m proud to join my Senate colleagues in stepping up our fight for Alaska’s future.”
Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Tom Udall (D-NM) are the other co-sponsors of this legislation that looks to address the crisis of youth suicide from three fronts; providing grants for Suicide Prevention Resource Centers, providing grants for states and tribes to develop and implement a state sponsored youth suicide early intervention and prevention strategy, and also providing grants for college campuses.
“As a mother, I know every child is different. That’s why one of the strengths of this bill is that it takes solutions to thousands of vulnerable young Alaskans—whether they’re in a Kotzebue Sound village or a classroom in Juneau,” Murkowski said.
Alaska has the highest suicide rate in the country, twice the national average and it is the leading cause of death for Alaskan youth ages 10-19.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, where Sen. Murkowski is a member, was sent the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2011. Past recipients of the act in Alaska include the State of Alaska Department of Health and Human Social Services, Alaska Youth Suicide Prevention Project, Southcentral Foundation, Kawerak, Inc. and Maniilaq Association.