The Native and Strong campaign features images and voices of Native American youth and adults from tribes and communities throughout Washington. These young men appear in a video spot and photography with Joe Hipp (background), a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, retired boxer and suicide-prevention advocate based in Tacoma.

For Native Americans, connection and identity help protect against suicide

Here’s how to spot warning signs — and how to help someone at risk

Joe Hipp is a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and a World Boxing Federation champion. He also lost his granddaughter, Alexandria, to suicide a decade ago. Now he uses boxing as a platform to talk with young Native people about suicide prevention.

Joe knows what it means to be strong. He also knows what it means to need support — and to provide it to others.

Asking for support “is a sign of strength we share,” the Tacoma resident says in this suicide-prevention video, alongside two young boxers.

The video is part of a suicide-prevention campaign called Native and Strong. Rather than highlighting statistics about Native people’s suicide risk, the campaign honors and celebrates Native strength. It also highlights the cultural connections and sense of identity that feed that strength. Research has shown that for Native people, connection with others and strong sense of Native identify help protect against suicide.

Native American people living throughout Washington shaped the campaign, lending their perspectives and experiences, as well as their voices and images to campaign videos and other materials. Several tribal members created artwork for the campaign. Their work was animated for videos about the signs of suicide and how to help someone at risk.

Animated side profile of a Native American youth looking out in the distance. He is wearing a gray baseball cap and shirt, sitting on a bench along a green hillside.
Sheldon Pierre Louis, a member of the Syilx people of the Okanagan Nation, was among several artists who created artwork for animated videos as part of Native and Strong. He created this character, who appears in a spot about the warning signs of suicide.

“We know a key principle in prevention work is the idea of ‘Nothing about us without us,’” said Gerry RainingBird, a DOH Suicide Prevention Program specialist who helped lead the campaign. “It was important in this work to follow the lead of the community we were seeking to support. This meant listening and learning throughout the process.”

The campaign also provides practical information that Native people can use to help prevent suicide — for themselves or others. While you can’t always tell, most people show some sign when they’re thinking about suicide. And when a friend or family member is struggling, it can make a big difference when you talk with them about it — and help them get the support they need.

Whether it’s for yourself or a friend or relative, call 988 or (800) 273–8255 to talk with someone now. All calls are free, private and confidential.

Signs of suicide

Talk to your friend or relative if you notice them:

  • Talking, joking or researching about death.
  • Feeling hopeless, depressed, anxious, angry or humiliated, or saying they are a burden to others.
  • Experiencing changes in their personality, outlook on life, or academic or work performance.
  • Sleeping much more than usual, or hardly ever.
  • Isolating themselves from others or avoiding activities they used to enjoy.
  • Using more alcohol or drugs, especially if they’re talking about suicide or self-harm while under the influence.
  • Behaving recklessly or giving away possessions.

Seeing the signs: What to do

When a friend or family member seems to be struggling emotionally, here’s how to help:

  • If you observe one or more signs, take them seriously.
  • It can feel uncomfortable to ask someone if they’re thinking about suicide. You could start your conversation by saying, “I’m worried about you,” or “I want to help you.” Sometimes a direct approach works best, simply asking: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  • Knowing someone cares can help people feel less alone. Listen to them with compassion and without judgment. React calmly if they say they’re thinking about suicide or have a plan to kill themselves.
  • Remove dangerous objects and substances from the places where your friend or family member lives and spends time. Ask if they’ve thought about how they would attempt suicide and get them away from anything they could use to hurt themselves.
  • Call 988 or (800) 273–8255 to talk with someone now for free and confidential support. Anyone can call, 24/7. You can call whether it’s an urgent situation, or you’re looking for emotional support for yourself or guidance to help a friend. Native people also can text NATIVE to 741–741 to reach crisis staffers trained to serve tribal members.

Spread the word and share these materials

Customizable Native and Strong materials are available, free of charge, for tribes and other organizations serving tribal members. To find the Partner Toolkit, go to NativeAndStrong.org.

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From the Washington State Department of Health

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Washington State Department of Health

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