Udall, Heinrich Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Address Suicide Crisis in Native Communities

Legislation would give Tribes a greater voice in planning suicide prevention programs

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the bipartisan Native American Suicide Prevention Act, along with U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), to address the growing suicide crisis in Indian Country by ensuring collaboration among states and Tribal organizations to design and implement statewide suicide intervention and prevention programs that work for their communities. The legislation is the Senate companion to H.R. 3473, a bipartisan bill introduced by Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), and 27 other House cosponsors.

“New Mexico has lost far too many people in our Native communities to suicide – and it is past time that we confront this crisis,” said Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “This legislation is an important step in ensuring Tribal collaboration with states to develop effective, culturally-relevant strategies to address the crisis level rates of suicide in Indian Country, particularly among Native youth. Tribal-State partnerships will help increase the effectiveness of suicide intervention and prevention programs when they take the unique needs of Indian Country into account. Together, we can strengthen our national response to suicide and connect Indian Country to the resources it needs to reduce the risk of suicide in Tribal communities.”

“Far too many families in Indian Country have been touched by this tragic crisis,” said Heinrich. “I hope that this legislation will help our tribes create effective and culturally-relevant suicide prevention and intervention strategies so they can save lives. We desperately need to provide better behavioral health care to our tribal and rural communities so that everyone who needs help can get it. I will keep fighting for essential resources that provide hope and care to at-risk New Mexicans.”

Rates of suicide among Native American have reached crisis levels. Indian Country is grappling with an epidemic of suicides that is claiming the lives of countless young people. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native people ages 10-34. In New Mexico, which is home to 23 Tribes, the suicide rate among Native youth is more than twice as high as the average rate for non-Native groups. In some Tribal communities, the Native youth suicide rate is 10 times greater than the national average – an alarming rate that represents a public health emergency. Despite the devastating scope of this crisis and the clear need for Native communities' involvement in the development of culturally-based suicide prevention initiatives, Tribes and Tribal organizations are too often left out of planning and implementing statewide programs.

The Native American Suicide Prevention Act would help address this epidemic by amending the Public Health Service Act to require states or state-designated entities to collaborate with Tribes in an effort to curtail the alarming suicide rate in Native communities.  Specifically, the bill would mandate that state governments collaborate with each federally recognized Indian tribe, tribal organization, urban Indian organization, and Native Hawaiian health care system in the state in developing and implementing statewide suicide early intervention and prevention strategies.

Organizations that support the Native American Suicide Prevention Act include the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the National Council of Urban Indian Health, the Alaska Native Health Board, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Papa Ola Lokahi, and the Association For Behavioral Healthcare.

Joining Senators Udall, Heinrich, Warren, and Murkowski in sponsoring this legislation are Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

Text of the bill is available here.