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Study seeks link between teaching Lumbee culture and mental health of youth


Research to be gathered by a Winston-Salem group and a UNC Pembroke professor will focus on Lumbee culture and mental health among youth.

The Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, the departments of Epidemiology and Prevention and Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine and UNCP’s Dr. Alfred Bryant are working with the Lumbee Tribe to study the effects of cultural education on suicide “ideation” in Lumbee Indian youth. 

Titled, “Lumbee Rite of Passage for Life,” the project is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health and is a two-year study that began on July 1.

The project will study 120 Lumbee youth, 60 enrolled in the tribe’s cultural education program and 60 not enrolled. In phase one, the team will form focus groups, and in phase two, they will conduct surveys.

The study’s leader is no stranger to Robeson County or the Lumbee. Dr. Ronny Bell, an enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe and a professor of epidemiology and prevention, is director of the Maya Angelou Center.

“American Indian youth have a high rate of suicide nationally, and kids who more closely relate to their cultural heritage show lower rates,” Dr. Bell said. “We will investigate the disconnect from culture among youth and its relation to negative behaviors.”

Dr. Elizabeth Arnold, a professor in the field of psychiatry and behavioral medicine, is collaborating on the study along with Dr. Bryant,chair of UNCP’s School Administration and Counseling Department.

Local partners include John Oxendine and Terry White, co-directors of the Cultural Enrichment Program and Youth Services Coordinators for the tribe.

Adolescents from the Lumbee Boys and Girls Clubs will be recruited to participate in the study. It will focus on measures that influence suicide “ideation,” including self-esteem, depression and other mental health indicators.

“These efforts will provide positive outcomes for American Indian communities in the near future,” Dr. Bell said.

Drs. Bell and Bryant are long-time friends with deep family connections.

“Some time ago, Alfred did a training program at the University of Colorado and asked to see data I had collected,” Dr. Bell said. “We ended up publishing a paper together.”

Dr. Bryant described how the current research topic originated.

“During focus groups we conducted with Lumbee community members for a previous project, it was discussed that Lumbee youth were suffering with mental illness and its related factors,” Dr. Bryant said. “We also learned about the culture classes being offered at the Boys and Girls Clubs and were interested to find out if participation in these classes would improve mental health outcomes and decrease suicidal ideation among Lumbee Youth.”

They hope to learn a great deal about Lumbee youth, and the research team believes useful information may result from their work.

Dr. Bryant said the study will launch more research.

“I am very excited to be a part of the Rite of Passage for Life grant,” Dr. Bryant said. “The attempt to better understand and address the issue of suicide ideation in American Indian youth is both timely and extremely important.”