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Tribal mental health summit in Oklahoma focuses on suicide prevention

Wichita Affiliated Tribes President Terri Parton speaks to attendees at the tribal mental health summit in Lawton, Oklahoma
Wichita Affiliated Tribes President Terri Parton speaks to attendees at the tribal mental health summit in Lawton, Oklahoma

Last week, tribal nations and the national 988 suicide prevention hotline held a two-day summit focused on the mental health of tribal citizens.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, there were 872 suicides in Oklahoma in 2022. More than 9% of those were identified as Native Americans. That's the same year the new 988 suicide prevention hotline was rolled out. The department reported the 988 call line received more than 40,000 calls and 10,000 text messages.

The Wichita Affiliated Tribes, located in Anadarko, Oklahoma, coordinated the 988 Mental Health Lifeline Summit which included tribal nations to share stories and resources on how to help those in crisis. The summit included 988 grantees including the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Comanche Nation, Muscogee Creek Nation, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Osage Nation, and Southern Plains Tribal Health Board.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also participated in the conference along with Oklahoma’s 988 call center Solari.

"I just want to thank you all for being here because it is important and it's important that we get these programs out into our communities," Terri Parton, President of the Wichita Affiliated Tribes told those in attendance. "Not just Native communities, but all communities, because our families are intermarried and we serve that whole community."

Parton shared some personal experiences with the audience about family and community members that were lost to suicide. She remembered how a young Wichita girl who worked at the travel plaza she would see every morning before work committed suicide.

Wichita Affiliated Tribes applied for a SAMHSA grant and received it.

"I truly believe that for our tribe that, you know, that was a calling for us to be involved in the SAMHSA grants and to build those programs," Parton said.

Kasey Nicholson of the A’aa’nii’nin (White Clay Nation) gave the keynote address

"What are we going to do really for today is we're going to open up our hearts. We're going to open up our minds. We're going to open up our abilities to think critically and methodically to help the people that we serve, to help the people in our own families," Nicholson told the crowd.

The summit included information about tribal nation's response, community engagement and successes of implementing the call line.

"Every single person, it does not matter your ethnicity, it does not matter your sexual orientation. It does not matter. Your gender does not matter. Your race does not matter. Who you are, you will be impacted in some way with mental health, substance misuse, or you will know someone who has been impacted," Carrie Slatton-Hodges, the commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said.

The Oklahoma Tribal Nations, ODMHSAS and Oklahoma’s 988 call center Solari have collaborated since the launch of 988 to raise awareness.

The two-day event featured cultural events, panels and keynote speakers from tribal nations.

Last week, the Biden-Harris administration announced it was making more than 74 million dollars available for behavioral health grants.

In September, SAMHSA awarded $18.3 million to 20 federally recognized Indian Tribes, Tribal organizations and Urban Indian Organizations for 988 Lifeline Tribal Response Cooperative Agreements. Six of the 20 grants were awarded in Oklahoma.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 9-8-8 or chat 988lifeline.org. To learn how to get support for mental health, drug, and alcohol issues, visit or FindSupport.gov.

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Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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