Background: Young Alaska Native people are at the greatest risk for suicidal behavior. Suicide rates calculated for the two regions served by NAWI can be more than 7 times the national average for all ages. The close-knit communities surrounding the Arctic Circle have disproportionately high rates of trauma, involvement in the justice and child welfare systems, and low rates of graduation and employment, all of which are associated with suicide. Alaska Native communities also suffer from the consequences of historical trauma. These realities have undermined and disrupted traditional sources of resilience, reducing local and indigenous protective factors and increasing suicide risk. Although suicide prevention is a focus in these communities, opportunities to strengthen community support and to link village and regional systems of support are important. Efforts are challenged by remoteness, issues of confidentiality, and the cultural competencies required of potential helpers.

This Project: Kawerak, Inc. is a regional non-profit corporation that contracts with state and federal governments to provide services to residents of the Bering Strait. Kawerak Wellness was awarded a 5-year youth suicide prevention grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to continue and expand suicide prevention efforts under the existing Northwest Arctic Wellness Initiative (NAWI) partnership. NAWI is an intertribal Youth Suicide Prevention Cooperative Agreement between the Bering Strait Region and Northwest Arctic Borough of Alaska. NAWI primarily serves Alaska Native youth and young adults ages 10-24 in 27 villages located just above and below the Arctic Circle. The initiative provides comprehensive, culturally relevant, training and intervention strategies to create self-sufficient, sustainable, community-level suicide prevention, intervention and post-vention for Alaska Natives.

Brief overview of proposed multi-level strategies being funded by SAMHSA:

  • Youth Leaders program
  • Youth culture camps for high risk youth
  • PC CARES (Promotion Community Conversations about Research to End Suicide)
  • Acute follow-up care after discharge for high risk suicide cases
  • Statewide meetings to promote Alaska Native suicide prevention best practices
  • Develop a regional suicide surveillance system

CBHRS as Independent Evaluators: Kawerak, Inc. has contracted with CBHRS as independent evaluators of SAMSHA-supported youth suicide prevention efforts. As part of this evaluation project, CBHRS has conducted or will be conducting pre and post community readiness interviews, conducting focus groups with youth and adult mentors participating in NAWI activities, and collecting and analyzing data from relevant regional, state, and national data sources to identify long-term trends related to youth suicide rates and risk and protective factors for suicide in the region. Data collection and performance measurement required by SAMHSA will also be carried out.

CBHRS Evaluation Project Staff:
Jodi Barnett, MA – Project Director
Alexandra Edwards, MA – Evaluator
Tara Schmidt, BA, Graduate Research Assistant

Funding for this initiative is provided through SAMHSA Grant # 1H79SM062905-01.