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A New Strength-Focused Framework to Prevent American Indian and Alaska Native Youth Suicide

Research Highlight

Researchers have developed a promising new framework for suicide prevention in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities. The research framework expands on conventional risk reduction strategies by placing Indigenous culture, knowledge, beliefs, and community collaboration at the center of the approach.

Suicide rates among AI/AN people  are the highest of any racial/ethnic group in the United States. The risk of suicide is particularly high among youth and young adults. In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death  for AI/AN people between the ages of 10 and 34.

Several complex and interrelated factors contribute to suicide risk and other health disparities  in AI/AN communities. These include mental health disorders, substance use, historical trauma and loss, and other contexts of inequity. Factors that can protect AI/AN youth and young adults against suicide  include a sense of belonging to one's culture, a strong tribal/spiritual bond, the opportunity to discuss problems with family or friends, feeling connected to family, and positive emotional health.

Given the serious concern youth suicide presents to AI/AN communities NIMH grantees James Allen, Ph.D. , Lisa Wexler, Ph.D. , and Stacy Rasmus, Ph.D. , developed a unique framework  for prevention that focuses on an individual’s access to protective factors rather than relying solely on risk factor reduction. In the framework, researchers also emphasize how community-level factors (e.g., social networks and support, economic environment, access to traditional cultural and spiritual practices) influence the physical and social environment to impact individual behavior.

In contrast to more conventional suicide prevention approaches, this new framework combines suicide prevention strategies at the individual level with strategies at the community level to build resilience and promote well-being. Using this framework, researchers aim to engage communities and encourage them to use cultural and community-specific resources to address the factors contributing to suicide risk.

Drs. Allen, Wexler, and Rasmus anticipate that this framework will guide research and offer a new approach to prevent suicide. By focusing on the strengths of communities and what they are doing well, the framework offers a complementary approach to risk reduction strategies and can help researchers better measure community strengths and test interventions based on them. This framework may serve as a way to reduce suicide risk, not only among AI/AN youth, but in other communities working to prevent suicide among children, adolescents, and young adults. 


Allen, J., Wexler, L., & Rasmus, S. (2021). Protective factors as a unifying framework for strength-based intervention and culturally responsive American Indian and Alaska Native suicide prevention. Prevention Science, 1-14. doi: 10.1007/s11121-021-01265-0