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Native Sun News: Professor works on youth suicide prevention

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Teresa D. LaFromboise. Photo from Stanford University

Researcher hopes to bring suicide prevention curriculum to junior high
By Ernestine Chasing Hawk
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY –– “If you want to have happy children you have to be a happy parent,” said one participant at the American Indian Life Skills Curriculum workshop at Grand Gateway Motel in Rapid City last month during the Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament.

“My focus is on how to make the most change based on research with Native American youth,” said Dr. Teresa D. LaFromboise facilitator of the workshop whose research on suicide prevention led to the development of the American Indian Life Skills Curriculum.

While suicides continue to plague many Indian communities, with rates being 2.5 to 6 times higher than the national average, implementation of LaFromboise’s curriculum in Native Communities is providing a ray of hope.

The Navajo Nation after implementing the curriculum, she said, saw a decrease in hopelessness and suicidal risk and an increase in public collective esteem, self-efficacy (self-confidence) and self-awareness. Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma reported a reduction of a 20 year suicide rate and no deaths by suicide since the AILS was implemented she said.

LaFromboise tested and evaluated her curriculum in the early 90’s with the Zuni Pueblo of New Mexico which served as the basis for the American Indian Life Skills Development curriculum that is now in use.

A most interesting finding from that study indicates that the less contact tribal youth had with the outside world and the more intact their tribal traditions, especially their language, the lower their suicide rate.

While celebrating a measure of success LaFramboise admits, obstacles remain. “We are still looking for ways to integrate the family in the healing model,” she said after several participants expressed concern over lack of family involvement. She suggested a public relations campaign.

Through her work she and her colleagues’ have pinpointed major risk factors for suicidal ideation including historical trauma, acculturation stress, pervasive poverty, family disruption and dysfunction, community violence, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, age identity and gender.

Research with Cherokee youth in the Appalachian Mountains that began before the tribe had a casino and continued for five years after they acquired a casino, is one of the strongest indicators they have about the impact of poverty she said. Her research found that pervasive poverty impedes socio-emotional development and exacerbates mental illness.

“After they acquired a casino they were no longer poor and we were looking at the impact of poverty, nothing else had changed, except there was an influx of money,” she said. “Five years out, they continued with the analysis and found that there was a significant reduction in depression. I know there is a lot of flak about addictions and all those kinds of things but the basic bottom line of this study is that in this community that’s what they found.”

In her research a regression analysis was done to measure the recurrence of major risk factors for suicidal ideation and it was found that major depression is the most significant factor and counts for 64 percent of the time.

“What we found most significantly – it was levels of depression and being bullied in school. But we also found that being verbally abused by an adult, is a constant in the predictors,” she said. “What that means is that if a person has mild depression or serious depression these things are really strong predictors of suicidal ideation.”

LaFramboise, a professor at Stanford University, has also developed a curriculum for the Junior High level and is currently seeking schools that may be willing to participate in the evaluation phase of the curriculum.

(Ernestine Chasing Hawk can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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