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


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
Externally publishedYes


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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