Suicidal ideation and related factors in Native American adolescents with and without learning disabilities

Lisa Rebecca Medoff
Native American Studies, Stanford University
July, 2006


Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death for adolescents between 15 and 19 years of age, and the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14 years. Completed suicide is 72% more common among Native Americans than among the general population. Some studies have reported higher levels of depression and suicidal behavior among students with learning disabilities, while others have found more equivocal results. Little is known about suicide vulnerability of Native American youth with learning disabilities. The current study explored the relationship between depression, suicidal behaviors, and learning disabilities in a population of Native American middle school students. The other variables that were evaluated were social problem-solving skills and academic belonging, both of which have been found to be lacking in learning disabled populations, as well as having been linked to increased levels of depression. Substance use, another previous correlate with depression and suicidal behaviors, was also evaluated. Survey data was collected through self-report measures from 122 middle school students attending a reservation school. The data indicate significantly higher rates of both suicidal behaviors and learning disabilities in this sample than in the general population. Depressive symptomatology showed the strongest association with suicidal behaviors. Gender differences in depressive symptomatology and suicidal behaviors were also found, with females demonstrating higher levels of both. Having a learning disability also showed an association with depressive symptomatology and suicidal behaviors.