UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
This research explores the potential and multiple risks of suicide for Native (Yup'ik) Alaskan soldiers and veterans returning from the Middle East war theatre as they reintegrate into their rural isolated communities located in the Yukon - Kuskokwim Delta of southwest Alaska. Native Alaskan communities in general - and Yup'ik communities in particular - have some of the highest suicide rates of anywhere in the United States and young Native men are at the greatest risk (Perkins 2006). Insofar as veterans from the Middle East war theatre are committing suicide at an alarming rate these Native soldiers/ veterans are returning to a doubly charged social and emotional landscape (Tanielian, 2008). Moreover, two of the primary factors that can inhibit soldiers and veterans from obtaining the needed behavioral and mental health services are access to care and willingness to seek care.
The exploratory study has three key objectives; first, to investigate the multiple strategies utilized by Native soldiers and veterans to negotiate this dual risk environment. Secondly, to examine the particular ways in which the struggles that some of these young Native men face affect their everyday lived experience, that is social relations with their families, their peers and their community. Lastly, to explore under what circumstances these young Native adults may or may not choose to seek help for what has been characterized as the "invisible wounds of war" (Tanielian, 2008).
The researcher's hypothesis is that without a culturally - sensitive, community - based modality of care - a middle ground - that can serve as a bridge between not seeking any care at all, ie., "going it alone" and actively engaging with evidenced based medical care for suicide ideation and associated problems of depression, PTSD, substance abuse, these Native soldiers/veterans in rural communities are doubly at risk for suicide as they are isolated - not only from their military peers ( Messinger 2008) - but also from their families and their community (Lifton, 1973; Appendix C). This study seeks to understand what the parameters of that middle ground might look like that is at once socially, culturally and historically contextualized.
This phase of the research contributes to our understanding of the complexity of the social and emotional problems faced by these young Native Alaska soldier/veterans in new ways that allows for more in depth insights usually missed by more prosaic community research methods. Although many community studies have now incorporated an ethnographic component into their research design, it is usually delimited by rapid response techniques, which usually involved a stay in village a week or so, thus mitigating an understanding of a locally lived social lives embedded within local history. This study not only explores the lived experiences of individuals at risk for suicide, but places them within the context of their families, their history, their community and their culture. In doing so both the strengths as well as the vulnerabilities of such emerge that may map new ways to reach and reach out to people in such circumstances.