Research Blog

Native American population getting much needed recognition

Posted on Sep 17th, 2009

One thing that is rarely talked about in mental health, or even mentioned in National Health Statistics, are the mental health disparities and suicide rates in the Native American community. The Federal government’s health program for Native people, Indian Health Services, reports annually the health and mental health disparities among Native Americans, yet, few people in America ever hear of the severe distress in Indian Country.

Last year, it was mandated that all Native Americans enrolled with Indian Health Services be screened for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with annual check-ups, regardless of age. One must weigh the gravity of that statement. The disparities of everyday life among Native people, whether, urban or reservation, are so frequent and severe, that even children are being screened for PTSD every year. What is happening in the Native community that would require such drastic reaction?

The answers are multi-layered, multi-faceted, and difficult. Poverty is attributed to much, but, more so, being raised in an environment controlled by outside sources, disempowerment, the generational attacks upon culture, financial exploitation, social scrutiny (such as sports mascots), and a gradual loss of culture and identity have created in many Native communities a mortality rate that is incomprehensible to most people. Suicide rates, according to the Federal government, are 72% higher than any other racial/ethnic group, death by alcohol and alcohol-related behaviors are 9 times the national average. Add into this that diabetes developed from government food supplies (mostly starches) are over 7 times higher than any other group, which, in itself contributes to alcohol addiction. Put all together with other health distresses ( highest rates of infant mortality, 2nd highest for heart and high blood pressure deaths, lack of sufficient medications, resources ), homicide, suicide, automobile deaths, and so on, and you begin to understand that everyone is closely related to someone who has died in a traumatic way RECENTLY.

However, there is a growing movement of grass-roots outreach programs designed and developed by Native people to take back their communities and advocate for community rights. Like a slow fire, these programs have begun to spread from the cities into the reservations, and vice versa. Everyone can agree on one thing: something has to change these statistics. The challenge remains to inform the public and most specifically health-care providers. Most providers outside of Indian Health Services have little to no awareness of these health disparities, and receive none of these statistics in their annual updates. They simply have no idea how to treat Native people.

If anyone would like to help, a good place to start would be to write their representatives and demand that Native American health statistics be INCLUDED in National health statistics.

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