Thursday, January 07, 2021

Mental-health advocates worry pandemic could drive rural suicide surge, especially among Native American teens

Mental-health advocates say they worry the pandemic may cause (or may already be causing) a spike in suicides in rural areas, especially among Native American teens on reservations. "In a typical year, Native American youth die by suicide at nearly twice the rate of their white peers in the U.S. Mental-health experts worry that the isolation and shutdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic could make things worse," Sara Reardon reports for Kaiser Health News.

Just as with rural areas in general, "poverty, high rates of substance abuse, limited health care and crowded households elevate both physical and mental-health risks for residents of reservations," Reardon reports. Suicide is often a taboo topic among Native Americans. But mental-health programs meant to address the topic among reservation residents are having difficulty operating during the pandemic because of social distancing and lack of broadband access. 

"For rural teenagers, in particular, the isolation caused by school closures and curtailed or canceled sports seasons can tax their mental health," Reardon reports. "Teen suicides tend to cluster, especially in rural areas. Every suicide triples the risk that a surviving loved one will follow suit."

Every person who dies by suicide has an average of six survivors. But in small tribal communities, that number is more like 25 to 30, according to Karl Rosston, suicide prevention coordinator for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

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