Skip Navigation


A Path Towards HopeBrad Armstrong

A Path Toward Hope (continued)

In 2004, the tribe and CAIH researchers began to regularly analyze data from the suicide registry, helping them uncover valuable information: The suicide rate is highest among the 15- to 24-year-olds, with 128.5 suicides per 100,000. (The all-ages U.S. suicide rate is 10.7.) Although Apache males and females attempt suicide at roughly the same rate, males are five times more likely to die. Hanging is the primary method of suicide, followed by firearm and overdose. Saturday is the most common day for suicide deaths.

“Suicide seems scary, a mystery, an unapproachable topic to many people, but we know it is a preventable public health problem,” says Barlow. “No one in the U.S. is addressing it with more courage and science than the White Mountain Apache people.”

In 2010, the Celebrating Life team collected 543 surveillance reports. Each yellow report triggers a visit to the young person by an Apache community mental health specialist trained by CAIH, who verifies what happened, begins a dialogue and refers the youth to Apache Behavioral Health Services for counseling. The specialist also gets young people to recognize what upsets them and to create a “safety plan” of actions to take when they are upset. Together, they also brainstorm ways to overcome barriers to counseling like transportation or privacy concerns. The specialists try to stay in touch with the young people, sharing advice and lending a sympathetic ear.

“We have taken an important leap to train native community mental health specialists to do diagnostic screening and crisis management,” says Barlow. “Local people are more credible and more compassionate to the youth and their families.”

With NIH and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration support, the Apache-Hopkins research team is assessing Celebrating Life by following more than 30 Apache adolescents who attempted suicide and then enrolled in the program. Initial results are encouraging. Youth in the program have reported fewer depressive symptoms, a reduced negative outlook and an increase in peer social support.

During the first or second visit, a specialist will try to help the youth understand the seriousness of a suicide attempt by playing a short, gender-specific video. In the video for young men, a teenage boy responds to a break-up with his girlfriend by hanging himself, but is saved by his mother. Tribal elders, speaking in Apache with English subtitles, share the tribe’s beliefs about the sacredness of life and each individual’s responsibility to the Apache web of life.

The team also offers a nine-session program for youth that helps them with conflict resolution and problem-solving and coping skills. In addition, more than 120 teachers, coaches, parents and others have taken two-day workshops that train them to recognize those at risk and help them effectively. An outreach program called Family Spirit gives teen mothers and fathers skills to help them raise healthy, emotionally resilient children. Another program called NativeVision enrolls third to fifth graders in afterschool classes in fitness, healthy lifestyles and tribal culture. The team also has led eight prayer walks with spiritual leaders to call attention to the suicide problem.

Lupe recalls addressing a sea of young faces in a school gymnasium after a recent prayer walk in his home community of Cibecue. He told them the ancient story of a young White Mountain Apache boy. Guided by a voice and helped by a spider and a gopher, the boy gathered an eagle feather, sinew from an elk, a stick, obsidian and other materials and made the first bow and arrow. “I want them to understand that we depend on the young generation,” Lupe says. “I want them to know that they have a responsibility. They can create a weapon for us. They can create motivation where the White Mountain Apache tribe can be so strong and so powerful.”

For their innovative approach, the Apache’s suicide prevention team was honored in October by the American Psychiatric Association with a bronze Psychiatric Services Achievement Award.

Despite their remarkable efforts, however, sometimes they still must deal with the sorrow of a suicide death. A little while after the first flurry of phone calls about the suicide attempt on that March afternoon, Goklish gets bad news. The young man has died.

Goklish and Larzelere-Hinton get in a blue Ford Escape and pull away from the hospital complex and head south on Arizona 73. They are driving to the family’s home to offer what comfort and counsel they can—and hopefully prevent any spark spreading from the first suicide of 2012.


This forum is closed

Read about our policy on comments to magazine articles.

design element
Preventing Sexual Child Abuse

Preventing Sexual Child Abuse

Researcher Elizabeth Letourneau shares simple steps to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse.

Watch Now

Talk to Us

Amazed? Enthralled? Disappointed? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on articles and your ideas for new stories:

Download the PDF

Get a copy of all Feature articles in PDF format. Read stories offline, optimized for printing.

Download Now (6.2MB)