Prevention Services


American Indian Life Skills Development/Zuni Life Skills Development

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among American Indians 15 to 24 years old, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The estimated rate of completed suicides among American Indians in this age group is about three times higher than among comparably aged U.S. youth overall (37.4 vs. 11.4 per 100,000, respectively). American Indian Life Skills Development (the currently available version of the former Zuni Life Skills Development program) is a school-based suicide prevention curriculum designed to address this problem by reducing suicide risk and improving protective factors among American Indian adolescents 14 to 19 years old.

The curriculum includes anywhere from 28 to 56 lesson plans covering topics such as building self-esteem, identifying emotions and stress, increasing communication and problem-solving skills, recognizing and eliminating self-destructive behavior, learning about suicide, role-playing around suicide prevention, and setting personal and community goals. The curriculum typically is delivered over 30 weeks during the school year, with students participating in lessons 3 times per week. Lessons are interactive and incorporate situations and experiences relevant to American Indian adolescent life, such as dating, rejection, divorce, separation, unemployment, and problems with health and the law. Most of the lessons include brief, scripted scenarios that provide a chance for students to employ problem solving and apply the suicide-related knowledge they have learned.

Lessons are delivered by teachers working with community resource leaders and representatives of local social services agencies. This team-teaching approach ensures that the lessons have a high degree of cultural and linguistic relevance even if the teachers are not Native American or not of the same tribe as the students. For example, the community resource leaders can speak to students in their own language to explain important concepts and can relate curriculum materials and exercises to traditional and contemporary tribal activities, beliefs, and values. A school counselor (typically of the same tribe) serves as the on-site curriculum coordinator.

The Zuni Life Skills Development curriculum was developed with cultural components relevant to the people of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico and was tested and evaluated with that population. The Zuni curriculum served as the basis for the broader American Indian Life Skills Development curriculum that is now in use, which can be used with other American Indian populations when implemented with appropriate and culturally specific modifications. (Description taken from

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