With rates up to 18 times higher for rural Alaska Native (AN) young people when compared to all American youth (124 vs 6.9 per 100,000), the health disparity of youth suicide continues to plague rural Indigenous communities in Alaska. The current system of care?with a focus on mental health?is not effective: 79% of suicide decedents and 62% of attempters received NO mental health care. Vulnerable AN youth are more likely to come into contact with healthcare providers, school personnel, public safety workers, and other community members. Additionally, friends and family members noticed signs of risk beforehand in 62% of all recorded suicidal behavior. These villagers can offer culturally-specific social support and safety measures to avert a suicide crisis, but they are not trained to initiate primary and secondary prevention. Currently, three times out of four, community members mobilize only when the person is in `imminent risk' of suicide. This level of risk means that vulnerable AN youth are taken 500 air miles away for assessment in a confined hospital room many associate with `jail'. After this experience, most AN youth return home less likely to seek help the next time they feel suicidal. Late intervention cuts off options for cultural, family and community-based care, which is preferred by AN youth and their families. To initiate activities to promote wellness, safety and support before a suicide crisis, our tribal working group developed and piloted PC CARES: Promoting Community Conversations About Research to End Suicide. This promising and feasible educational intervention is led by local facilitators, and offers village stakeholders a series of learning circles to study `what we know' from prevention research and figure out how they can apply it to their jobs, families, and lives. The goal of the intervention is to enhance knowledge, skills and attitudes among service providers, family members and tribal residents so that they promote wellbeing, recognize risk, support vulnerable youth, and work with others in their community to take supportive and safety actions when they notice signs of vulnerability. Our community intervention utilizes indigenous pedagogy and prevention science to increase village members' and service providers' capacity to find `up-stream', self-determined and culturally-responsive ways to reduce suicide risk. Using a community-based, participatory research (CBPR) approach, our specific aims track change on both individual and community levels.
Aim 1 : Track the effect of PC CARES on participants' knowledge, attitudes and behavior, and identify key factors influencing these outcomes over time.
Aim 2 : Document the community-level impact of PC CARES by tracking the number and type of interactions aimed at preventing youth suicide and promoting wellness in participating villages, and describe changes in the supportive social networks of young people before and after the intervention. IMPACT: Our scalable model offers under-resourced Native communities a practical method for translating scientific research into culturally relevant efforts to reduce suicide risk factors, and increase safety, help-seeking and support to prevent suicide.

Public Health Relevance

Rural Alaska Native (AN) youth suicide is a significant health disparity, and there is evidence about how best to address and reduce it. Our piloted intervention, Promoting Community Conversations About Research to End Suicide (PC CARES) translates research to practice. Village facilitators teach service providers, family, and friends `what works' from prevention science, host discussions to adapt this information to AN community and cultural contexts, and assist stakeholders in doing culturally-relevant suicide prevention and health promotion.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Reider, Eve
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
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Ann Arbor
United States
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