In case you weren't aware September is National Suicide Prevention month so we're going to take some time to talk about a very serious topic-depression.
Depression is a serious illness. One that affects thousands of Native Americans every day. In the past few years, an epidemic of suicide has spread across the youth of Indian country. The Pine Ridge Reservation, for example, reported 103 suicide attempts of people aged 12-24 from December 2014-March 2015.
Our people are taking their own lives, and it has Native communities searching for answers.
Many members of the Indigenous community have a theory.
What’s the root cause for so much anguish and pain that are people see suicide as the only way out?
It sounded strange to me at first too, but after tons of research, it’s actually making sense. You might be asking how something that happened hundreds of years ago could be affecting us today. The truth is two tiny words control the habits of our people:
- Generational Trauma
Generational trauma is defined as-
trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post- traumatic stress disorder mechanisms.
Otherwise known as historical trauma-
a term used by social workers, historians and psychologists, refers to the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding of an individual or generation caused by a traumatic experience or event.
What does that translate to in plain English?
Recently a new science has emerged called “epigenetics”. It is an in-depth way to study genes and DNA. Epigenetics has found cause to believe that (due to a very long scientific explanation) our DNA carry traumatic memories from our ancestors and pass them down through the generations shaping how we react to teams and stress factors.
Colonization, the massacre’s, and issues that happened as a direct result were traumatic. So traumatic in fact that our people still feel it effects to this day.
Not only did the colonists massacre our ancestors and strip away pieces of our culture they introduced us to alcohol.
Now 1 in 10 Native deaths are alcohol-related.
The alcoholism rate contributes to the fact that 40% of Native Women experience domestic violence.
The high domestic violence rate leads to substance abuse.
All of those issues lead to the poverty rate, high rate of depression, and eventual suicide rates among so many promising youths.
It’s a deadly domino game, with the first domino being placed the minute Columbus stepped foot in the Americas.
So, what can we do to combat all of these things?
Revive our culture.
Our culture is our identity. Feelings of a loss of identity can lead to feelings of depression. Go to ceremonies, powwows, and reclaim your Indigenous Identity.
Respect our women.
Most Native tribes are matriarchal. We recognize the sheer power and wisdom women hold within themselves. It’s not in our culture to disrespect that. Break the cycle and call on the strength of our heritage by respecting the women in your life.
On top of all of these things remember that a lot of times depression is caused by deficiencies in the brain. Thanks to medicine today there are many steps you can take to treat it. Talk to counselors, your doctors, and lean on friends and family in times of need.
If you see someone who’s really feeling the extent of these feelings reach out. As Indigenous people, we need to look out for one another.
If you or a friend are feeling suicidal or you simply need to talk you can call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255