Protecting against hopelessness and suicidality in sexually abused American Indian adolescents

Margaret Dexheimer Pharris, Michael D. Resnick, Robert W. Blum

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

    70 Scopus citations


    Purpose: The purpose of this study was to identify factors protective against the adverse health correlates of sexual abuse in reservation-based American Indian and Alaskan Native adolescents. Methods: Data were taken from the National American Indian Adolescent Health Survey administered in 1988- 1990 to 13,923 youths. Included in this analysis were 991 females and 166 males who reported a history of sexual abuse. Chi-square analysis was used to identify significant protective factors in sexually abused youths who did not report suicidality or hopelessness. Discriminant function analysis was used to determine which factors distinguished this group from those who experienced adverse health correlates. Results: Separate multivariate analyses for boys and girls demonstrated that for girls, family attention, positive feelings toward school, parental expectations, and caring exhibited by family, adults, and tribal leaders were associated with absence of suicidality and hopelessness. For suicidality in boys, significant protective factors were enjoyment of school, involvement in traditional activities, strong academic performance, and caring exhibited by family, adults, school people, and tribal leaders. No significant protective factors against hopelessness were identified for boys. Conclusions: To minimize hopelessness and suicidal involvement among youth who have been sexually abused, strategies should be planned, implemented, and evaluated that support family caring and connectedness, strengthen school attachment and performance, and improve tribal connectedness.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)400-406
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
    Issue number6
    StatePublished - Dec 1997

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    Original data collection was supported by a grant from the U.S. Indian Health Service in collaboration with Grant MCJ-00985-10-2 from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources Services Administration, Rockville, Maryland. The primary author was supported in part by Project MCJ-279185 from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, (Title V, Social Security Act) Health Resources and Service Administration, Department of Health and Human Services.


    • Adolescent
    • American Indian
    • Hopelessness
    • Protective factors
    • Resiliency
    • Sexual abuse
    • Suicide


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