Native and Strong Lifeline celebrates one-year anniversary

(Courtesy photo)

Washington state’s Native and Strong Lifeline celebrates its first anniversary on Friday, Nov. 10.

It’s the nation’s first suicide prevention, crisis, and help line fully staffed and run by Native crisis counselors that serves American Indian and Alaska Native people, according to a news release. Volunteers of America Western Washington (VOAWW) operates the line.

The Native and Strong Lifeline is free, confidential, and available 24/7/365 for people experiencing a mental health crisis, substance use concerns, or emotional distress. The resources and support are centered on Indigenous people’s traditions, wisdom, and lived experiences.

“Calling the Native and Strong Lifeline is just like talking to one of your cousins, aunties, or uncles,” said Valarie Moon, Native and Strong Lifeline shift lead. “I want all the Native people to remember that before colonialism, we were connected and dependent on our relatives to survive, and it was not shameful. We care about every single Native person out there going through a hard time, and we want to try to provide you with mechanisms to feel your sadness, anger, or grief.”

Native people have higher rates of suicide than the general population in Washington state. But suicide is preventable, and culturally affirming support can make a difference.

“I had a 14-year-old boy wanting to die by suicide, and I was able to share the loss of my 18-year-old son with him,” said Robert Coberly, Native and Strong Lifeline employee. “He heard me and told me, ‘I don’t want to put my parents through what you are going through.’”

Call volume and staff expansion

From its launch in November 2022 through October 2023, the Native and Strong Lifeline answered 4,132 calls, with an average of roughly 342 calls per month and 86 calls per week, according to VOAWW data.

Currently, this line is only available by phone, but the goal is to add text and chat options in the future. The Native and Strong Lifeline has grown from 11 to 23 crisis counselors within the last year and hopes to hire more staff in the coming year.

The Native and Strong Lifeline’s features and future

Callers can talk about anything causing distress. “We want our callers to feel supported and heard, and we have resources that can help,” said Mariah Thompson, Native and Strong Lifeline crisis counselor. “I had a client call when they were struggling because they weren’t finding fulfillment in their job. I set them up to speak with the Native Resource Hub and talked with them about jobs, like recovery coaching and peer support.”

The line is developing a follow-up program to check back with people who’ve called to get crisis support. “It can make a huge difference for people dealing with a mental health crisis, and it also helps people get any other resources they might need,” said Rochelle Hamilton, VOAWW Director of Tribal Services.

“Providing and expanding culturally sensitive services is paramount to preventing suicide. At DOH, we are proud to support the Native and Strong Lifeline,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “We know that when our providers better reflect the communities and cultures they serve, those communities and cultures become healthier and more engaged in a life-saving mental and behavioral health journey.”

The Native and Strong Lifeline is integrated into Washington’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline system. When someone calls the 988 Lifeline, they can choose option 4 to reach a Native and Strong Lifeline counselor.

The line serves all Native people living in Washington or calling from a Washington area code, including American Indians, Alaska Natives, First Nations, enrolled tribal members, and unenrolled descendants.

  1. This is a wonderful program. Great article. I have a friend who is a First Nations person and a Trauma Counselor. He is very involved with this and encourages all to come aboard and do this great work. I love the way the setup is described in your article. Giving access to all so easily. I hope many can be hired to do this very important caring work.

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