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Begaye, Nez Seek To Prevent Suicides

Begaye, Nez Seek To Prevent Suicides
September 28
08:56 2015

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez are fighting to raise awareness of teen suicides among Native Americans.

Among young natives between the ages of 15-24 the suicide rate is double the national average.

The board of directors for Utah Navajo Health Systems (UNHS), located in Montezuma Creek, declared a state of emergency earlier this month after a series of suicides in the communities it serves.

The Health, Education and Human Services Committee of the 23rd Navajo Nation Council accepted the UNHS report on September 16.

“The rash of suicides has shaken the communities that we serve. The emotional toll on everyone has been significant,” UNHS Board Chairman Robert Whitehorse said.

With September being National Suicide Prevention Month, it served as a catalyst for UNHS to work closer with the Navajo Nation to create a safety net against the fall-out from suicide.

“We will work with other agencies to increase awareness, provide additional educational tools, de-stigmatize the illnesses and treatments, network with healthcare and mental health professionals and increase our presence with primary and secondary schools,” Whitehorse said.

Since taking office in May, Begaye and Nez have made suicide awareness a priority in their administration.

“Suicide is just not a problem on Navajo, it’s a problem throughout Indian Country,” Nez stressed.

The root causes of suicide include poverty, depression, bullying, alcoholism, drug abuse and other social conditions.

Nez spoke of a young Navajo male, set to graduate from high school in May, but instead took his own life.

UNHS’ emergency declaration is a pro-active step, Nez said. He urged the council’s HEHS committee to submit a letter of support to the Office of the President and Vice President requesting an emergency declaration to release funding to UNHS for suicide prevention efforts.

In June, Nez reported to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, providing suggestions on fighting suicide, namely the establishment of a national workgroup to begin planning.     In addition to bureaucrats, the workgroup should include tribal leaders from around Indian Country, Nez suggested.

Suicide is a taboo topic for Navajo people, but the discussion must take place, Nez said.

“Everywhere I go, I try to bring up suicide prevention for our young people. It’s mostly our young Navajo men that are taking their own lives,” he said. “How do we address that?”

Intergenerational teaching between the elders and youth is the answer, Nez added.

“Many of us were probably raised by our grandparents talking to us in Navajo, letting us know that this is how life is to be. But now, our younger generation does not understand the language and there’s a gap,” Nez explained. “Language is the foundation.”

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