Youth-Led Suicide Prevention Efforts in American Samoa
October 28, 2021
Eight students sitting at desks in front of sign that says "life is short... so run long"

This photo is a clip from the Sign of Suicide video referenced above, which was produced by the Ta’iala Peer leader of Tafuna High School.

Anna Corona

Trigger warning: this post contains content about suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, free and confidential help is available. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741) to speak to someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Mental health and wellbeing are just as critical to the development of an adolescent as their physical health. Unfortunately, depression, bullying, abuse, and substance use have impacted adolescents’ quality of life, and in the case of suicide, claimed their lives too soon.

Families, friends, and the greater community are greatly impacted and saddened when a youth dies by suicide. The effect can seem more magnified in smaller, closely knit places like American Samoa. With a population a little over 55,000, many communities are essentially extended families, where others know one another, closely or through acquaintances.

While other states and jurisdictions were laser focused on the COVID-19 crisis and response, American Samoa’s Maternal and Child Health (MCH) and other agency colleagues and partners were facing a more troubling crisis- an increase in youth who died by suicide. The emotional devastation felt by the families themselves and the family-like community in American Samoa prompted unprecedented outreach and response to not only heal, but to prevent.

In 2020, the American Samoa Department of Health (DOH), in partnership with Family Voices, was awarded a grant under the HRSA CARES Act for Maternal and Child Health Telehealth Capacity in Public Health Systems. Their project aimed to 1) implement community-based telehealth services for populations experiencing higher rates of suicide, families, and others who may respond to these situations and 2) improve professional development among mental health and behavioral health specialists. Part of the support included offering funding to a local youth organization, Intersections Inc., to produce media and materials promoting the suicide hotline and other available resources. Simultaneously, staff from Family Voices conducted a series of train-the-trainer workshops for DOH, Family-to-Family staff, and family leaders on how to identify and address mental health and suicidal behaviors, specific to the American Samoan community.

Young people want to be a part of the solution. As such, peer support and youth voice has helped elevate and spread the important messaging around recognizing the signs of suicide risk among adolescents and young adults. Signs of Suicide is a video produced by Intersections Inc., created by the Ta’iala Peer leaders of Tafuna High School. It reinforces that youth are important, they are loved, and there is someone out there that can help.

To learn more about Intersections Inc., check out their Facebook page: