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Suicide and Domestic Violence

In Indian Country, the abusive tactics of domestic violence have their roots in colonization. Maintaining power and control of one’s intimate partner(s) is the objective of the abuser. The abuse can physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a person from acting freely, or force them to behave in ways they do not want. Victim-survivors may feel confused, afraid, angry and/or trapped. They may blame themselves for what is happening. A victim-survivor can develop mental health issues like depression over the course of the relationship, putting them at greater risk for suicide. However, it is important to note that not all victim-survivors are at risk of suicide.

Risk Factors

Reasons for suicide vary, but there are close ties to intergenerational trauma and family violence, medical and/or mental illness and stressful events. Those at the highest risk of suicide fall between the ages of 15 and 24 or over the age of 60.

person leaning over

Some factors that can contribute to the risk of suicide, include:

  • Depression and/or other mental health disorders
  • Substance Use Disorder
  • Family history of mental health disorder, substance use disorder, suicide, family violence
  • Being exposed to others' suicidal behavior, such as a relative, peer, or celebrity
  • Medical illness, including chronic pain
  • Stressful life events, such as a job loss, financial problems, loss of a loved one, a breakup of a relationship, etc.
  • Incarceration or recent release from prison or jail
  • Having guns in the home

Violence Against Native Women

Native Americans and Alaska Natives experience some of the highest rates of domestic and sexual violence as well as a high rate of suicide. According to a 2016 report from the National Institute of Justice:

  • Native women experience higher levels of violence than other women in the U.S.
  • Nearly 84 percent experience violence in their lifetime.
  • More than a third of women who have been raped have contemplated suicide
  • And, 13 percent have attempted suicide.

Suicide Rates Increase

For American Indians, colonization is clearly linked to genocide, intergenerational trauma and domestic violence. Our ancestors endured unspeakable crimes committed against them. Those who survived were forced to assimilate while being abused in every manner of violence. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Native Americans also experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general population.

An analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics showed the U.S. suicide rate is up 33 percent since 1999, but for American Indian and Alaska Native women and men, the increase is even greater: 139 percent and 71 percent, respectively.

Historical disenfranchisement through genocide and institutional racism has resulted in Native Americans experiencing poorer health and socioeconomic outcomes. These social determinants of health intersect to create a situation that is detrimental to the physical and mental health of Indian communities. Cultural disconnection, alienation and pressure to assimilate all contribute to higher rates of suicide among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Native communities experience higher rates of suicide compared to all other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., with suicide being the eighth leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives across all ages. For Native youth ages 10 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death; and the Native youth suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the overall national average, making these rates the highest across all ethnic and racial groups.

Help is Available

If you or someone you know has the warning signs for suicide, get help right away, especially if there is a change in behavior. If it is an emergency, dial 911.

These resources are available for anyone struggling with their mental health:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255.

Crisis Text Line
A 24/7 text line for those experiencing a painful emotional crisis and who need support. Text 741741.

StrongHearts Native Helpline
A 24/7 domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for Native Americans and Alaska Natives, available by calling or texting 1-844-762-8483 or clicking on the chat icon on our website.


Sources

“Products - Health e Stats - Suicide Rates for Females and Males by Race/Ethnicity: United States: 1999 and 2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 20, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/suicide/rates_1999_2017.htm. Accessed 13 October 2021.

“Polyvictimization: Children’s Exposure to Multiple Types of Violence, Crime, and Abuse” U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. October 2011. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/235504.pdf Accessed 13 October 2021.

“Lifeline Chat.” Lifeline. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. Accessed October 13, 2021.

Ilgen, Mark, and Felicia Kleinberg. "The link between substance abuse, violence, and suicide: implications and interventions." Psychiatric Times, vol. 28, no. 1, Jan. 2011, p. 25. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A250886463/AONE?u=anon~c759626d&sid=googleScholar&xid=724db55e. Accessed 29 September 2021.

“Indian Health Service (IHS).” Suicide Prevention. https://www.ihs.gov/suicideprevention/. Accessed October 13, 2021.

“We Can All Prevent Suicide.” Lifeline. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide/. Accessed October 13, 2021.

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