Native Youth Suicide
The August 8, 2013, Winnipeg Free Press article, “Native youth suicide stats numbing,” raises the question of how such horrific statistics can be reduced. Since focusing on the causes should be the first step in any discussion about prevention, the relationship between suicide and trauma must be recognized and therefore prevention strategies for suicide aimed at preventing trauma and at healing traumatic responses when trauma has occurred.
Trauma impacts every aspect of human functioning. Responses often manifest as a category of symptoms, collectively referred to as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many native youth experience post traumatic stress resulting from primary traumas occurring in early childhood. Some too experience trauma secondarily, as a result of the intergenerational effects.
Trauma reconditions the nervous system and can make the person maladaptive to a life of feeling safe and secure. The person experiencing the effects of trauma often does not have a normal baseline for emotion. This means that anger turns instantly to rage, and fear becomes instant terror. Another major symptom of trauma is the invasion of the past into the present. The traumatized person often relives the events and the associated emotions during waking and as nighttime terrors. The lives of those who are traumatized can become narrowed in an attempt to control pervasive fears and dreads. A further symptom becoming more widely recognized is the spiritual emptiness experienced following trauma. There is a growing awareness that following trauma a part of the self may need to be reclaimed. In many Indigenous cultures it is believed that when trauma happens a part of the self can stay trapped in the place of trauma. Those who feel they have left a part of themselves at the trauma scene often voice that their lives feel incomplete and empty and that they are plagued by dreams of searching and longing.
This accumulation of symptoms can cause relationships to fail and make the life of someone who has experienced trauma seem unbearable and not worth living. Many who have been traumatized use drugs and alcohol, to numb the responses; others slash and even burn themselves in an attempt to release the trapped emotions and get an endorphin release which will ease their suffering for a time.
When these attempts no longer work suicide becomes an option, and for some can seem like the only way out of the constant misery they can no longer cope with.
©Dr. Jane A. Simington, PHD. August 9, 2013