Oglala Sioux Tribe struggles with high rate of suicide among youth

Youth participate in a healing camp that was organized to address suicide on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo by Cindy Giago

The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota declared an emergency in response to a large number of suicides and suicide attempts but officials are struggling to address the root cause of the problem.

Since December, nine young people -- including a 12-year-old -- have committed suicide on the Pine Ridge Reservation. There have been at least 103 attempts, The New York Times reported.

“It is devastating,” President John Yellow Bird Steele told the paper. “I don’t know if they were cyberbullied, or if they had living conditions they didn’t want to put up with, or they were sexually abused. Were they hungry? I don’t know.”

"When you have a good understanding of what’s happening,” he added, “come back and tell me.”

Bullying, racism, depression, abuse and historical trauma have been mentioned as potential causes. Some youth may also have been influenced by the attention that comes when another person commits suicide.

“Contagion does occur with teenagers,” Stephanie Schweitzer Dixon, the executive director of the suicide prevention group Front Porch Coalition, told the paper. “Kids are young, they don’t think clearly, their brains aren’t fully developed. I know that things seem to be getting worse for kids. Things seem to be getting more dire.”

Steele and a minister on the reservation also said some people believe in a spirit that encourages young people to take their lives.

Get the Story:
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Struggles With Suicides Among Its Young (The New York Times 5/2)

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