Native Americans represent less than two percent of the US population but they make up eight percent of those who are homeless and according to mental health statistics in Native Americans, it is estimated that up to 70 percent of this population will suffer some sort of mental health disorder during their lifetimes. That’s over 45,000 homeless Native Americans and 4 million more suffering from mental illness; people experiencing their own individual realities day in and day out. The indigenous Native Americans have endured generations of historical trauma by being forced from their homeland, stripped of their resources, and have had much of their culture taken away which has resulted in high rates of poverty and self-destruction which have contributed to the high rates of mental health and substance abuse disorders among this population. By taking a look at the mental health statistics in Native Americans, it is clear how mental health has strongly impacted this minority population. Unfortunately, mental health in minorities is often overlooked.
Taking a look at the numbers
- Native Americans experience serious psychological distress 1.5 times more than the general population.
- Native Americans experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general population.
- Although overall suicide rates are similar to those of whites, there are significant differences among certain age groups. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10-34-year-olds; whereas, the suicide rate among Native Americans that are more than 75 years old is only one-third of the general population.
- Native Americans appear to use alternative therapies at rates equal to or greater than whites. In fact, research has found that Native American men and women who meet the criteria for depression, anxiety, or substance abuse disorders are significantly more likely to seek help from a spiritual healer than from specialty or other medical sources.
- Due to high levels of poverty, many Native Americans face economic barriers that prevent them from receiving treatment.
- Compared to whites, three times as many Native Americans lack health insurance, 33% compared to 11%. Approximately 57% of Native Americans rely on the Indian Health Service for care.
- Access to mental health services is severely limited by the rural, isolated location of many Native American communities. Additionally, access is limited because most clinics and hospitals of the Indian Health Service are located on reservations, yet the majority of Native Americans no longer reside on reservations.
- According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 16 percent of students at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools in 2001 reported having attempted suicide in the preceding 12 months
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death, and 2.5 times the national rate, for Native American youth in the 15-24-age range.
- 22% of females and 12% of males reported having attempted suicide, while 5% had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year.
- The incidence of postpartum depression symptoms in Native Americans was over 23%, which is significantly higher than even the most liberal estimates in other populations.
- Native American children and adolescents have the highest rates of lifetime major depressive episodes and highest self-reported depression rates than any other ethnic/racial group
- In 2014, approximately 9% of Native Americans ages 18 and older had co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder in the past year—almost three times that of the general population
How can we break this cycle and provide better care to this community?
- Increase awareness of mental health and its connection to chronic diseases
- Conduct stigma awareness training with members of the community
- Educate providers about unique mental health issues in the American Indian population
- Advocate for policies that promote social justice, equity, and equality
- Create and provide comprehensive, affordable, health coverage for everyone
- Shift the focus of mental health care to prevention and early intervention
- Better integrate traditional healing and spiritual practices with modern biomedical health care
- Develop a more person-centered care philosophy and respect for the importance of family and community
- Health care providers treating American Indians should familiarize themselves with the belief system and traditional treatment for mental illness used in the community to better integrate care
“If we do not find a way to change this epidemic, we will have done what the bullets, the treaties, the boarding schools did not do. We will have succeeded in probably eliminating Indian culture in a meaningful way because there just won’t be very many of us left who are healthy enough to pass it on.”