The Navajo Nation is facing a health emergency after a series of four suicides near the small community of Montezuma Creek, Utah.
Two youths and two adults have died since mid-August.
Michael Jensen, CEO at Utah Navajo Health Systems (UNHS), said there are several possible causes of the suicides, including the recent mine waste spill that polluted the Animas River, and the first suicide, by a Navajo motivational speaker who worked in suicide prevention.
“I would say it oversimplifies things to say, ‘this is why he or she did it,’” Jensen said. “I don’t think any of us fully understands what is gong on in somebody’s life. There’s been a lot that’s happened in this community. There was also a family that lost three members in a car accident earlier this summer, coming back from a pow-wow.”
Jensen said the suicides, while tragic, have launched collaborative efforts to stop more suicides in the community.
“If there’s positive that’s come out of all of this, it’s that agencies and organizations are coming together to bring their resources and their people and their services together, and collaborate, and bring as many services we can to the people. The hope is we can create an environment and a safety net that would hopefully stop this down the line.”
In response to the recent suicides, UNHS has participated in wider meetings with local schools, county school officials, the IHS, the Navajo Nation Department of Health, Navajo Nation Council members, church representatives, the state of Arizona’s Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority (NARBHA) and Navajo emergency responders, to coordinate on creating support systems for people at risk.
“Really we are trying to formalize how we can, without duplicating services, reach all the people and all the high-risk folks in the communities. Those are ongoing talks,” he said.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the suicide rate for Native American youth ages 15 to 24 is nearly four times higher than the national average.