When the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board began considering strategies to promote mental health and wellbeing among American Indian men and boys in Oklahoma, suicide prevention quickly emerged as a key focus area.
Nationally, suicide is the second leading cause of death for American Indian males between 10 and 14 years old. In the Southern Plains region, suicide rates for American Indian males are two to five times higher than for their female peers, said Amber Martinez, coordinator for the Tribal Health Board’s Empowering American Indian Boys and Men to a Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirit project.
“It wasn’t hard to see the need to prioritize suicide prevention in our communities and identify interventions and programs that strengthened resiliency and empowered our boys and men,” Martinez said. The Tribal Health Board is partnering with Hope Squad, a suicide prevention model that engages and trains youth to recognize and report warning signs of suicide among their peers. In addition, Hope Squad focuses on shaping more positive environments at school and in the community by providing young people with leadership roles and shifting norms around talking about suicide.
In this podcast conversation, Martinez and Susan Gay, public health training coordinator at the Tribal Health Board, and Hope Squad founder Dr. Greg Hudnall join Prevention Institute host Alexis Captanian to talk about establishing Hope Squad in a residential high school for American Indian youth.
“Seven or eight out of 10 young people who take their lives will tell a friend, but that friend will never tell an adult, so we saw how important it was to train them to break that wall of silence,” Dr. Hudnall said. “Young people hide it, they’re embarrassed… What the Hope Squad does is it starts promoting that we all struggle at different times, and that when we do struggle, it's OK to reach out and get help.”
“What we really liked about Hope Squad was that it allowed room for our community to adopt their own special take on the program,” Martinez said. “The students could make it their own -- incorporate culture, diversity and emotionality.”
Click here to listen to the conversation and learn more about how the Tribal Health Board is working with American Indian youth to adapt the model for their communities.
* * * * *
Empowering American Indian Boys and Men to a Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirit is part of Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Men and Boys, a national initiative that is bringing forward upstream, strengths-based, community-level approaches to fostering wellbeing. At the center of the initiative is a network of 16 diverse communities in rural, urban, and suburban locations across the U.S. that are transforming conditions that can affect the mental health and wellbeing of men and boys, such as social connections, the physical environment, and educational and economic opportunities. The Movember Foundation is funding this work; Prevention Institute is providing coordination, training, and technical assistance; and a team from the University of South Florida is evaluating progress and outcomes.