AKWESASNE, N.Y. (WWTI) — The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Mental Health Program was awarded two federal grants that will be used to provide care for members who are at risk of suicide.

According to the tribe, their program is set to receive $586,001 each year, for the next five years. The SRMT Akwesasne Suicide Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention Program received annual funding of $348,511, while the SRMT Zero Suicide Initiative Project secured an annual grant for $237,490. Both grants amount to $2,930,005 for the next five years.

According to the tribe, there have been 46 suicide attempts in Akwesasne since 2003, with 4 deaths in 2020 and 2021 alone due to opioid overdose. They also stated that suicide has become the second leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives. In the grant proposal, SRMT Mental Health Director Christine Venery highlighted the importance of providing the needed resources to avoid member suicide.

“Suicides and suicide attempts continue to have a serious and devastating impact on the community of Akwesasne,” Venery stated. “Akwesasne leaders recognized the urgency in dealing with this issue, as our community members are some of the most susceptible to suicide. As a result, they have tasked our behavioral health professionals to help address its contributing factors.”

SRMT Health Services Director Michael Cook also noted the impact the grant will have on the Akwesasne community.

“I am pleased that the grant award will help the SPIP Program to enhance care coordination with community coalitions and established networks, expand our behavioral health and referral services, and continue to help us implement culturally appropriate approaches that encourage help-seeking behavior,” Cook stated. “We have found that the incorporation of traditional practices; such as smudging, language, storytelling, and ceremonies; have helped emphasize that asking for help is a sign of strength.”

The SRMT Zero Suicide Initiative Project will also support the implementation of a comprehensive system-wide approach that is led by evidence-based research and findings. It provides a multi-level framework for the coordination of risk assessment, intervention, and monitoring within the Tribe and, eventually, the community. It entails the establishment of a Zero Suicide Implementation Team to oversee the implementation of the model’s seven elements which include lead, train, identify, engage, treat, transition, and improve.

Anyone who is or knows someone at risk of suicide is encouraged to call SRMT Mental Health Services at (518) 358-3145 during normal business hours, or after-hours at (518) 651-4475. More information can be found on the SRMT website.