Monica Yellow Bird was 17 when her cousin hanged himself. The boy, also 17, was ambitious and had plans for the future but drank alcohol, Yellow Bird told the Associated Press. One day, her family returned to her grandmother’s home where they found him hanging by a sheet. “As Native people, we keep everything inside,” said Yellow Bird, now 23. “We think it makes us stronger. But people need to talk about youth suicide in our community.”
Many American Indian community leaders agree. On Wednesday, Yellow Bird joined American Indian teens and community leaders to announce the Native Youth Crisis Hotline, a 24-hour telephone suicide counseling service. According to Pat Shepard, a Minneapolis social worker and member of Wisconsin’s Lac du Flambeau tribe who proposed the hot line, American Indians age 15 to 24 are three times more likely to commit suicide than any other racial or ethnic group. Officials say isolation, alcohol, drugs, violence and family problems are among the problems that contribute to high suicide rates among American Indian youth.