The Blackfeet Native Connections project will improve coordination among behavioral health agencies across the Blackfeet Nation in Northwestern Montana to better respond to and care for individuals and families dealing with the issues of suicide, mental health crises, and substance use. The project will improve youth access to mental health care in rural schools and facilitate on-site mental health support during mental health emergencies on the Blackfeet Nation. The population of primary focus for the project will be youth aged 24 years or younger, a demographic represented within Blackfeet at nearly double the national average. The suicide rate among Blackfeet community members is nearly double the national average, and substance misuse in our young adult population is also disproportionately elevated. To address these pressing public health concerns, Blackfeet Native Connections will aim to improve substance use and mental health care coordination and collaboration among youth-serving agencies on the Blackfeet Nation by completing a systems analysis, needs assessment, and resources/asset map for youth behavioral health. Additionally, all youth-serving agencies will adopt standards of care for youth at risk for suicide, procedures for transitioning youth between agencies, a plan to facilitate connection to treatment and follow-up for youth who attempt suicide and use substances and “postvention” protocols for responding to suicides and suicide attempts.
To guide this work, a diverse group of local stakeholders—to include behavioral health professionals knowledgeable in evidence-based clinical health practices, community members knowledgeable in traditional and cultural Blackfeet values, and youth from a local youth advisory board—will meet at least quarterly throughout the five-year project to provide guidance on all project activities. Blackfeet Native Connections will also work to reduce the traumatic impact of mental health and substance use disorders on the Blackfeet Nation through culturally responsive interventions aimed at universal prevention as well as selective and indicated intervention strategies. This will be achieved through comprehensive development and implementation of action plans designed to (a) train at least 50 school staff and 200 medical staff in evidence-based behavioral health literacy to improve universal prevention of substance use and mental health crises; (b) identify and offer universal and selected behavioral health services to 250 students in the Heart Butte and East Glacier Park School settings; (c) provide at least 500 youth with indicated mental health care and substance use interventions at the time of a mental health crisis through Mental Health Support Specialists embedded in school and law enforcement settings. This project will serve a total of 1,000 people on the Blackfeet Nation over the five-year period.