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Of all the many roles we may take on as employees, managers and administrators, perhaps one of the least expected but most important is our role in crisis intervention.

The economy has brought distress to American lifestyles. But for the American Indian population, it may have provided an even greater strain on personal circumstances, strain that could easily lead to personal crisis. As American Indians, we suffer at a higher than average rate from many of the most significant social problems, including poverty, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction, and domestic violence.

Considering that we spend most of our time in the work place, it might be the most common place to identify someone in a crisis situation. As full-time employees, we spend most of our waking hours on the job, and more time with our co-workers than family and friends. Determining if someone might be in an emotional or personal crisis may be more easily detected by a co-worker or supervisor. Knowing how to respond and what important actions to take might allow for a more positive outcome.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, “suicide rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives are many times higher than the nation average for other population groups” and although statistics vary by age, Native Americans account for as much as “40 percent of all suicide cases.” But even one suicide in Indian country is too many. Suicide is not the only situation of crisis we need to be aware of. There are also victims of domestic violence and people dealing with a heavy addiction problem (drugs, alcohol and even gambling) that may also find themselves in a crisis situation.

A personal crisis is a situation when one feels hopeless, when they are dealing with a problem that is beyond their ability to cope. They become overwhelmed, and without the proper intervention and access to resources, the outcome could be devastating or cause irreversible harm to themselves or to someone else.

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When addressing personal crisis in the workplace, there are some telltale signs that a person may be in distress or crisis including isolation, not wanting to socialize, moodiness or irritability, poor appearance, acting and looking different, not being interested in work, not completing work and any behavior that seems out of the ordinary. People in crisis are often looking for help, so they may display signs that call out for help (talking about death and dying is one example). However, it is also important to remember that in many Native cultures it is not appropriate to talk about negative things. Dwelling on bad emotions might bring about bad luck. These are some of the challenges we should be aware of.

If you suspect a co-worker is in crisis, counselors recommend the first step is to talk to the person (or find someone who is willing and able talk with them). You should question them about their situation. It is important to keep your own emotions and reaction intact. You must be clear minded when helping. Your role should be to help them find and receive the right kind of assistance they need (suicide intervention, drug counseling and in some cases shelter care). You should not take on the role of a professional. You are dealing with delicate issues and it is best left to someone who knows how to address them. The most important thing you can do is to help identify that they are in a crisis situation and to aid in getting your co-worker to the best resource to address their problems, even when the situation warrants a call to 911.

There are many things to consider in crisis intervention. It might be worthwhile to set up training, or at least share information on how to help someone in crisis, have a system in place that directs workers on how to respond. Identify employee resources. Invite tribal departments (or IHS) to share their recommendations for dealing with workplace crisis, such as suicide prevention.

Native businesses and organizations play a valuable role in serving our communities. But as employees, co-workers and supervisors we should be aware of all the situations we might find ourselves in and prepare to help. Not only is it what is expected of us, but an important benefit to being a part of a Native community in knowing that you are not in it alone and there is always someone there to help.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at