Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Struggles With Suicides Among Its Young

Julie Bosman in the NYTimes:

29SUICIDEWEB1-master675Two teenagers hanged themselves in December. In the next three months, seven more young people were found dead, including Alanie Martin, 14, who was known for her love of basketball, cheerleading and traditional Indian hand games. When Santana killed herself in February, she followed another recent suicide of a boy who attended her school, Wounded Knee, so named for the 1890 massacre that occurred where the reservation stands today.

Many more youths on the reservation have tried, but failed, to kill themselves in the past several months: at least 103 attempts by people ages 12 to 24 occurred from December to March, according to the federal Indian Health Service. Grim-faced emergency medical workers on the reservation, which is the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, say they have been called to the scenes of suicide attempts sometimes several times a day.

Tribe officials, clergy members and social workers say they cannot remember such a high rate of suicides and attempts in such a short period of time on the reservation, which is already overwhelmed with high rates of unemployment, poverty, domestic abuse and alcohol addiction.

In 2013, five people, including adults and children, killed themselves in a single year, according to the Oglala Sioux tribe. But officials at Pine Ridge said they were mystified by the far more pronounced increase in the past several months and had searched, unsuccessfully, for answers.

As the suicides began to mount in February, the Oglala Sioux tribe president, John Yellow Bird Steele, declared an emergency on the reservation. In response, the Indian Health Service deployed additional counselors, but many people here say it is not nearly enough: There are only six mental health professionals on the entire reservation, which has a population of 16,000 to 40,000 members of the tribe.

Read the rest here.