1. American Indian Life Skills Development

American Indian Life Skills Development

Program Goals/Target Population

The American Indian Life Skills Development curriculum, also known as the Zuni Life Skills Development curriculum, is a school-based, culturally sensitive, suicide-prevention program for American Indian adolescents. Tailored to American Indian norms and values, the curriculum was designed to reduce behavioral and cognitive factors associated with suicidal thinking and behavior.

Among American Indians/Alaska Natives ages 15 to 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death (CDC 2009). Around 1987, the Zuni Pueblo reservation of approximately 9,000 tribal members in New Mexico became concerned with the sudden rise in the number of youth and young adult suicides. It was thought that the increase may be associated with the fact that Zuni youths were losing touch with their traditions, as families and communities became more fragmented. For Zuni, suicide is an especially distressing incident because it is forbidden in their traditional culture (LaFromboise and Howard–Pitney 1995). Zuni leaders initiated the development of a suicide prevention program for students in high school (9th and 11th grades) with the goal of reducing the risk factors related with suicidal behavior.

Program Theory

The life skills curriculum draws heavily from social cognitive theory (Bandura 1986). From this theoretical perspective, suicidal behavior is attributed to direct learning or modeling influences (such as peer suicidal behavior) in conjunction with environmental influences and individual characteristics that mediate decisions related to suicidal behavior. Life skills training should lessen the impact of these influences by developing social cognitive skills of youth (LaFromboise and Howard–Pitney 1995).

Program Components

The American Indian Life Skills Development curriculum can be delivered three times a week for 30 weeks, during the school year or as an afterschool program. The curriculum is structured around seven major units: 1) building self-esteem, 2) identifying emotions and stress, 3) increasing communication and problem-solving skills, 4) recognizing and eliminating self-destructive behavior such as pessimistic thoughts or anger reactivity, 5) receiving suicide information, 6) receiving suicide intervention training, and 7) setting personal and community goals. The curriculum also incorporates three domains of well-being indicators that are specific to tribal groups: helping one another, group belonging, and spiritual beliefs systems and practices.

Each lesson in the curriculum contains standard skills training techniques for providing information about the helpful or harmful effects of certain behaviors, modeling of target skills, experimental activities, behavior rehearsal for skill acquisition, and feedback for skills refinement. These components rely on a variety of different learning techniques and actively engage students early in the training process. The sessions follow the social learning skills training format and provide material relevant to students in general as well as to students who are most at risk for suicide.

The curriculum is unique because it was specifically adapted to be compatible with Zuni norms, values, beliefs, and attitudes; sense of self, space, and time; communication style; and rewards and forms of recognition.

Intervention ID

14 to 19


Study 1

Self-Report Surveys

LaFromboise and Howard–Pitney (1995) found mixed results regarding the effectiveness of the American Indian Life Skills Development curriculum. Participating in the program led to significant improvements on one of the psychological variables. The intervention group showed significantly fewer feelings of hopelessness than the no-intervention group. However, there were no significant differences between the groups on measures of suicide probability and depression. In addition, students’ self-efficacy ratings for skills covered in the curriculum showed no significant intervention effect.

Behavioral Observation

Of the sample of 62 students, the behavioral observations of 28 students from the matched pair sample were analyzed (14 from the intervention and 14 from the no-intervention group). A significant main effect was found for the intervention group for both skills measures. Intervention students demonstrated a significantly higher level of suicide intervention skills than the no-intervention group. Intervention students also demonstrated significantly higher levels of problem-solving skills but only in the more mild suicide scenario, and not in the more serious suicide scenario.

Peer Ratings

There were no significant intervention effects on peer perceptions of classmates’ suicide intervention and problem-solving skills.

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