University of Alaska Fairbanks

Troth Yeddha’ Global Center for Applied Indigenous Knowledge: Suicide Prevention

Suicide crisis intervention

We envision a global center advancing Indigenous knowledge and promoting Indigenous communities to implement culturally-grounded and evidence based solutions to end youth suicide.

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Suicide is an epidemic in Indigenous communities worldwide, with the highest rates occurring in the Circumpolar North, North America, and Oceania. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Alaska Native youth and young adults. This tragedy is the result of colonial and assimilation policies that have separated people from their culture, language and place resulting in disruption of social connection, loss of history, identity and self-efficacy. Suicide as a symptom of social distress and despair requires multilevel solutions driven by communities. Our team has worked for over two decades with Alaska Native communities to develop, implement and evaluate cultural and community-level solutions to end suicide. We propose a center that will serve as a platform for Indigenous communities to understand and apply these techniques within the specifics of their own culture and society. Through Troth Yeddha’ we will open a window of Indigenous community healing to the world.

Problem Statement

Indigenous people are significantly more at risk for death by suicide than the general population in many global contexts. Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country with rates twice as high as the rest of the United States (20.2 versus 11.5 per 100,000), and among Alaska Native peoples is even higher at 35.1 per 100,000. Alaska Native men between the ages of 15 through 24 have the highest rate of suicide among almost any demographic in the world, with an average of 141.6 suicides per 100,000. Before the middle of the twentieth century, suicide was a rare occurrence in Alaska Native communities, and, when it did occur, it happened mainly among elders. Today suicide is most common among adolescent and young adult Indigenous people. Colonial and assimilation practices have changed, in a very short period of time, the economy, social structure, culture, language, and spirituality of Indigenous peoples resulting in an interference of the generational transfer of these societal pillars and a loss of identity, self-efficacy and self-esteem. New threats, with rapid climate and environmental change, are further endangering the practice of many traditional and subsistence activities as these changes are accelerated in the Circumpolar North where the rate of climate change is twice that experienced in lower latitudes. A sustainable solution to the suicide epidemic must address the root issues responsible for this problem in way that builds socio-ecological resilience to the imposing influences and promotes healthy adaptations in a changing world.

Solution Overview

Alaska Native communities are leading the way towards developing suicide prevention strategies and solutions that promote strengths, community-level change, and resilience. Our solution provides training and empowerment opportunities and develops programs that utilize culturally specific knowledge, skills, and language to build strengths within Indigenous communities which have been proven to provide protection against suicide. One such approach is the Qungasvik (Tools for Life) prevention model, http://www.qungasvik.org/home/. This intervention was developed by Yup’ik Alaska Native communities and builds strengths, cultural protective factors, reasons for life, and sobriety in youth as a hedge against suicide. This solution came from within the Yup’ik communities and applies a Yup’ik theory of change to address the epidemic of suicide among young people. This is a data-driven, scalable and sustainable approach that identifies, re-vitalizes, and preserves Indigenous knowledge and practices for future generations and has great potential for broader impacts across Indigenous communities. Our center will disseminate and train 35 Indigenous communities to implement their own solutions drawing from successful and evidence-based models that have proven effective for Indigenous communities. Our solution will have a deep and intense impact on many small populations of people spread over a tremendous geographical area. We plan to engage Indigenous communities across the Circumpolar North, North America, and Oceania. This engagement will include immediate, intermediate and long-term activities with immediate and intermediate impacts within the 5-years of funding. Long-term outcomes resulting ultimately in resilience and protection against suicide for Indigenous communities, will directly serve 7,000 Indigenous youth.

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Project Funders

  • National Institutes of Health 2005 - 2020
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2016 - 2021
  • State of Alaska 2011 - 2014

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