Suicide and Soul Wound: Stress, Coping, and Culture in the American Indian and Alaska Native Youth Context


Suicide, the second leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI) youth ages 15 to 24, raises a criti- cal issue for social work research and practice. This paper ar- gues that AI youth suicide is a contemporary manifestation of ““soul wound”” and expands the definition of soul wound to in- clude present stressors and coping mechanisms for youth that are characterized by a legacy of colonization and cultural oppres- sion. While AI youth come from diverse communities, this paper will demonstrate the importance of examining youth suicide as part of the overall AI experience in the United States. Using an indigenist stress process model framework, it will subsequently examine four forms of stressors informed by the marginalization of the AI population: psychological strains of historical trauma, environmental stressors, quotidian stressors arising from socio- economic factors, and adversity from personal and relational role conflicts. AI youth mediate these stressors through coping mecha- nisms around social support and collective mastery. This paper will conclude with a call to develop an anti-oppressive, culturally relevant social work practice that supports meaningful identity development and collective efficacy.

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