Interagency Tribal Listening Sessions Address Suicide Prevention

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WASHINGTON, DC—IHS, SAMHSA, and the Department of the Interior’s Indian Affairs have been holding tribal listening sessions across Indian country to seek input on how the agencies can most effectively work within American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities to prevent suicide.

Suicide is a serious problem in AI/AN communities with suicide rates that are 72% higher than the general US population.

The 10 listening sessions began in November and are expected to be completed this month. According to the agencies, the listening sessions will help the agencies gather first-hand information on suicide prevention needs, concerns, programs, and practices from the residents of American Indian and Alaska Native communities. “We really need to work with tribal leaders on developing strategies and best practices to address suicide prevention,” said Rose Weahkee, PhD, director of the IHS Division of Behavioral Health. “None of us can do it in isolation or alone.”

The listening sessions allow tribal leaders and agencies to address tribal priorities and to determine collaborative ways to address suicide prevention, according to Weahkee. “To hear directly from tribal leaders and members and communities what they feel the main issues and priorities are will really inform what strategies we come up with together and how we leverage and coordinate our resources to address the issue.”

The input from the listening sessions will also help inform the agenda for a national comprehensive suicide prevention conference planned this year involving the Department of the Interior and HHS.

Suicide Prevention Efforts

In addition to the listening sessions, Weahkee pointed out that IHS leadership is involved in a number of other suicide prevention efforts and partnerships, such as the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, an initiative that was launched by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and DoD Secretary Robert Gates in September of 2010.

The alliance aims to advance specific, high-priority objectives of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, and includes a task force that specifically addresses suicide prevention efforts among AI/ANs that is being jointly led by IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux, MD; Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk, JD, and McClellan Hall, MA, executive director for the National Indian Youth Leadership Project.

IHS also has the Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI), which funds over 100 pilot programs across Indian country. The initiative aims to promote the development of evidence-based and practice-based models that represent culturally-appropriate prevention and treatment approaches to methamphetamine abuse and suicide prevention from a community-driven context.

The goal of the MSPI, according to the agency, is to intervene effectively to prevent, reduce, or delay the use and/or spread of methamphetamine abuse; increase access to methamphetamine and suicide prevention services; and demonstrate efficacy and impact.

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