Innovation summary

Native minority communities of Embera ethnic origin who live in Alto Baudó, Chocó, Colombia have limited engagement in national health systems, face high levels of violence, displacement and rapid culture change leading to adverse mental health consequences, including increased rates of suicides and attempted suicides.

The project “Giving LIFE a chance” aims to reduce the prevalence of suicide in the Embera community through a proof of concept consisting of the development of a psychosocial intervention for adolescents and young adults delivered by paraprofessionals, combined with culturally-appropriate suicide education and prevention for the indigenous communities in the region. 

Impact summary

  • At least 90 children, adolescents and young adults (CAA) at risk of losing the will to live and/or affected family members receive psychosocial attention
  • 30% improvement in risk of losing the will to live (LWL) symptoms at 3 months among CAA and/or family treated by the programme compared control group

This innovation is funded by Grand Challenges Canada.

Innovation details

“Giving LIFE a chance” provides the opportunity to identify and research differences unique to indigenous communities experiencing rapid cultural change.  It aims to reduce the prevalence of suicide in the Embera community through a proof of concept consisting of 4 interrelated results:

  1. Reduction in risk of suicide due to demonstrated reduction in identified suicide-related symptoms and increased coping skills among persons who have attempted or contemplated suicide
  2. Reduced suicide clustering through development of effective community response strategies, including collaboration with traditional healers, communication strategies following a completed suicide, and community safety planning and crisis intervention
  3. Proven skills acquisition and delivery of services by paraprofessionals recruited and trained from within the indigenous community
  4. Cost-effectiveness of intervention design and service model for potential applicability elsewhere


Complex Security Situation

The security situation is complex due to the presence of armed groups in the region. There have been frequent security incidents in late 2014 and early 2015.

Difficult Regional Landscape

The region’s geographical terrain is difficult to maneuver and unpredictable weather conditions.

Relationships with Local Stakeholders

Gaining the trust of local authorities, organizations and community in general has been challenging.


The project aims to create a replicable model with proven effectiveness that may be used in other indigenous communities experiencing similar suicide prevalence rates.

Evaluation methods

This project will attempt to measure changed mental status among a cohort of 90 persons who have attempted suicide or who are identified as being at imminent risk of suicide, as well as changes in community response leading to fewer suicide attempts and completions in communities in which prevention strategies are employed. These changes will be measured comparing the differences in symptoms between entry and exit to treatment, using the population-specific instrument designed at the beginning of the project to measure distress / depression / other relevant symptoms using local language terms and terminology, train local translators and measure well-being and functioning.

Cost of implementation

Cost effectiveness will be measured following completion of the project.


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