High Native American Suicide Rates On South Dakota Reservation

Teen suicide has become especially poignant for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, located along the South Dakota-Nebraska border.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that a string of seven teen suicides in recent months has deeply affected the impoverished reservation, writes the Christian Science Monitor .

The website colorlines.com paints the picture of the area of Oglala Lakota County even more drastically than the Associated Press.  “At least 11 children between the ages of 12 and 17 have committed suicide in my county since December. The heartbreaking details vary from child to child, but their families and this community—in the newly renamed Oglala Lakota County—feel the voids left by their absences just as deeply each and every time,” states colorlines.com.

Between December 1st and March 23rd, Pine Ridge Hospital treated 241 patients under 19 who actively planned, attempted or committed suicide. The numbers don’t account for unreported cases or for those who were treated in neighboring counties.  At this rate, 37 young people in a county that only has 5,393 inhabitants under 18 will be gone by the end of 2015.  Statistics from Pine Ridge Indian Health Services show teen suicide numbers have increased over the last seven years. In the same four-month period last year, for example, there were no suicides in Pine Ridge. In 2012, only one, states colorlines.com.

“The situation has turned into an epidemic,” Thomas Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, whose 24-year-old niece was one of two adults who also committed suicide this winter, told the Associated Press. “There are a lot of reasons behind it. The bullying at schools, the high unemployment rate. Parents need to discipline the children.”

Among native Americans ages 15 to 24, suicide rates are more than double the national average, according to The Christian Science Monitor.  The suicides are taking place amid a host of social problems including alcoholism and drug abuse, bullying, violence, high unemployment and school dropout rates, and high levels of poverty and deprivation.

Reversing a feeling of hopelessness is vital, advocates say.

More here