There is an epidemic growing in New Mexico not being talked about in mainstream media — the growth in suicide among Indigenous youth. But with September being the National Suicide Prevention Month, it is time we address this head-on systematically, otherwise our Native communities will continue to suffer.
Suicide has been gravely impacting New Mexico. In 2018 alone, New Mexico had the highest rate of suicide in the nation and it has been increasing every year since then. Most unfortunate, suicide impacts our youth disproportionately — especially Indigenous youth between the ages of 15 and 24.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, among 100,000 native youth, 32 commit suicide in a year–the highest rate among all ethnic and racial groups in the state. And the trend is getting worse. At the national level, suicide is the second leading cause of death among Indigenous youth.
We cannot go forward accepting this as our reality. Our Indigenous youth are living through an epidemic and we must start to address it at the policy and community level.
It is critical, however, to realize this has been caused systematically. In general, the lack of resources to uplift and support the well-being of young people dealing with ongoing stressors, leading them to believe they have no other escape, is simply disheartening.
For centuries, since the onset of colonization of this land, our Indigenous communities have been displaced, forgotten, and left in the abyss with no infrastructure and medical or mental health care resources needed to effectively uplift our people. Now, Indigenous youth are navigating school in a pandemic while experiencing the intergenerational trauma from settler colonialism that upholds systems of racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, poverty, food insecurity, paternalism and land theft.
As New Mexico moves forward in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, we should not forget our youth who need help. It starts by pointing out that our Indigenous youth are hurting more than any other community in New Mexico and understanding why. It starts by ensuring New Mexico invests in more infrastructure and resources for public health and mental health in Indigenous communities which have been systematically relegated since the onset of colonization.
Native communities in New Mexico have been lacking sufficient housing, healthcare, mental health services, access to healthy food and water for centuries. The United States and its ongoing settler colonial project is continuing to take Native lands and exploit them while polluting the land, water, air, and plant and animal relatives in Indigenous communities.
Indigenous youth are growing up in communities polluted from uranium mining, fracking, and other resource extraction projects on or near their homelands. They are becoming who they are while dealing with historical trauma passed down for generations.
It is time for New Mexico to invest in more healthy support systems. Our children deserve stable housing, access to culturally relevant mental health services, healthcare, and healthy food and water. Our young ones need youth centered programs and services that acknowledge and support how they walk in this world.
Because If we want our youth to succeed, we need smart investments that will set them up for success now and in the future.