Considering the importance of ‘Communities of Practice’ and Health Promotion Constructs for Upstream Suicide Prevention

Wexler, L., Ginn, J., White, L., Schmidt, T., Rataj, S., Wells, C. C., Schultz, K., Kapoulea, E. A., McEachern, D., Habecker, P., & Laws, H. (2024). Considering the importance of ‘Communities of Practice’ and Health Promotion Constructs for Upstream Suicide Prevention. Research square,


Background: Suicide is a serious and growing health inequity for Alaska Native (AN) youth (ages 15-24), who experience suicide rates significantly higher than the general U.S. youth population. In low-resourced, remote communities, building on the local and cultural resources found in remote AN communities to increase uptake of prevention behaviors like lethal means reduction, interpersonal support, and postvention can be more effective at preventing suicide than a risk-referral process. This study expands the variables we hypothesize as important for reducing suicide risk and supporting wellbeing. These variables are: 1) perceived suicide prevention self-efficacy, 2) perceived wellness self-efficacy, and 3) developing a ‘community of practice’ (CoP) for prevention/wellness work.

Method: With a convenience sample (N = 398) of participants (ages 15+) in five remote Alaska Native communities, this study characterizes respondents’ social roles: institutional role if they have a job that includes suicide prevention (e.g. teachers, community health workers) and community role if their primary role is based on family or community positioning (e.g. Elder, parent). The cross-sectional analysis then explores the relationship between respondents’ wellness and prevention self-efficacy and CoP as predictors of their self-reported suicide prevention and wellness promotion behaviors: (1) working together with others (e.g. community initiatives), (2) offering interpersonal support to someone, (3) reducing access to lethal means, and (4) reducing suicide risk for others after a suicide death in the community.

Results: Community and institutional roles are vital, and analyses detected distinct patterns linking our dependent variables to different preventative behaviors. Findings associated wellness self-efficacy and CoP (but not prevention self-efficacy) with ‘working together’ behaviors, wellness and prevention self-efficacy (but not CoP) with interpersonal supportive behaviors; both prevention self-efficacy and CoP with higher postvention behaviors. Only prevention self-efficacy was associated with lethal means reduction.

Conclusions: The study widens the scope of suicide prevention. Promising approaches to suicide prevention in rural low-resourced communities include: (1) engaging people in community and institutional roles, (2) developing communities of practice for suicide prevention among different sectors of a community, and (3) broadening the scope of suicide prevention to include wellness promotion as well as suicide prevention.

Keywords: American Indian/Alaska Native; Suicide prevention; communities of practice; health promotion; rural