Arizona lawmaker tackles Native American suicide epidemic

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WASHINGTON (GrayDC) The Native American suicide rate is at epidemic levels. An Arizona lawmaker is trying to tackle the issue with new legislation.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said he wants to see more programs to help Native Americans feel closer to their ancestral culture. (Source: GrayDC)

“It has affected my family, and it’s affecting my community…when my family experienced it, I blamed myself,” said Carletta Tilousi, a Havasupai councilwoman.

Carletta Tilousi said she is still mourning the loss of a loved one from suicide.

“The person that did commit suicide I think doesn’t realize how much pain that they’ve left us with,” said Tilousi.

For many Native American groups like the Havasupai tribe, suicide is a taboo subject. Tilousi says she is learning more about the issue and how to talk about it within the tribal communities.

“I believe talking is healing,” said Tilousi.

Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said the suicide rate is a national tragedy.

“These are the first Americans. And if we don’t respond to this, it’s to our own shame,” said the Congressman.

That is why Grijalva introduced a bill to make sure Native American tribes and organizations get access to grant money for suicide prevention programs tailored to the culture.

“The same cookie cutter doesn’t apply to anybody. And it certainly doesn’t apply to Indian country,” said Grijalva.

Erik Stegman, Executive Director of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, agrees. He said mental health services are important, but customized cultural programs are critical to reducing suicide.

“The research has really shown us that culture really is an important protective factor for Native youth when they’re contemplating suicide,” said Stegman.

The bipartisan bill was sent to the Subcommittee on Health back in February.
Lawmakers are on summer recess. Grijalva hopes they’ll address the issue when lawmakers return in September.

The National Suicide Prevention hotline is available 24/7. If you or anyone you know needs it, contact 1-800-273-8255.

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