Beliefs about causal factors for suicide in rural Alaska Native communities and recommendations for prevention

Transcult Psychiatry. 2020 Nov 8;1363461520963869. doi: 10.1177/1363461520963869. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Rural Indigenous communities in Alaska suffer staggeringly high rates of suicide. In close-knit Alaska Native villages, each suicide leaves a trail of affected family and community members in its wake. This research aimed to understand community perceptions of what causes suicide in rural Alaska Native villages and generate recommendations for prevention strategies. In-depth interviews were conducted with 25 Alaska Native university students who moved from rural villages to an urban area to attend college. All had been profoundly affected by others' suicides and shared their beliefs about causal factors and recommendations for prevention efforts. Perceived causes included resistance to seeking help or discussing personal problems, loss of culture, traumatic experiences, geographical and social isolation, lack of opportunity, substance abuse, and exposure to others' suicides. Participants believed that suicide is preventable and recommended multi-level approaches to address suicide disparities. They provided recommendations for potentially effective and culturally appropriate prevention strategies, including increasing cultural and social connections, educating community members about mental health, and increasing accessibility of counseling services/reducing barriers to mental health services utilization.

Keywords: Alaska Native; qualitative; rural; suicide.