'People Are Overwhelmed!' Sequestration Slams Mental Health for Natives

September 12, 2013

Mental health services for Native Americans took a 5 percent cut due to federal sequestration, and the reduction has cost tribes essential staff and programs, reports NPR.

Native teens and 20-somethings are killing themselves at an alarming pace. For those 15 to 24, the rate is 3.5 times that of other Americans and rising, according to the Indian Health Service (IHS). Tribes have declared states of emergency and set up crisis-intervention teams.

RELATED: American Indian Youth in Crisis: Tribes Grapple With a Suicide Emergency

"People are overwhelmed. Sometimes they’ll say, I just can’t go to another funeral," says Diane Garreau, a child-welfare official on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, in South Dakota.

But many of these mental health and suicide prevention programs are either being forced to scale back due to a lack of funding, or stunted and unable to expand to meet their community's needs.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, for one, is now unable to hire two additional mental health service providers, Cathy Abramson, chairwoman of the National Indian Health Board, told NPR.

"Since the beginning of the year, there have been 100 suicide attempts in 110 days on Pine Ridge," Abramson said at a Senate committee hearing in Washington last spring. "We can't take any more cuts. We just can't."

• 1-800-273-TALK is a free, confidential 24/7 hot line for anyone who is in crisis about any issue and wants to talk to a trained counselor. You can also call if you know someone in crisis and want advice about what to do.
• The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) administers youth-suicide prevention funds provided by the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, named for a senator’s son who killed himself in 2003. The agency hopes that going forward more tribes will apply for them, says Richard McKeon, chief of SAMHSA’s suicide-prevention branch.
• SAMHSA offers technical assistance, on grant-writing and more, through its Native Aspirations program (NativeAspirations.org) and publishes a prevention guide, To Live to See the Great Day That Dawns, available online. The agency also maintains a registry of evidence-based (scientifically tested) suicide-prevention practices.
• For Indian Health Service resources, check the agency’s website.
• Two nonprofits, the One Sky Center and the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, offer much helpful information.