Mental Health and America’s Native American Population: National Native American Heritage Month

Galen Hope founders and associates humbly recognize the land that our offices operate on today are the ancestral homelands of sovereign Native nations, including the Tequesta, the Calusa, and today, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. we acknowledge the diverse people groups who still make this area their home today. 

November is recognized as National Native American Heritage Month in the United States. At Galen Hope, it’s our pleasure to honor the numerous, unique people groups that preceded us, and to examine how their rich culture and history influenced the culture and history of the United States.  

We recognize that through the United States’ foundation, and throughout time, Native people groups have been mistreated. During November it is our duty to educate ourselves on these wrongdoings throughout time and honor and celebrate our Native American neighbors and their traditions.  

We realize the effects of colonization and generational trauma are grave and see how native groups are underserved in many realms, but in the Mental Health field as well. There are many cultural and spiritual nuances active in Native American Culture, due to the firm pride in traditions, getting professional mental health care is often outside of many groups’ practices or beliefs. Still, some who are seeking mental health care, may not have access to it.  

This National Native American Heritage Month, let’s discuss and unpack the systemic challenges Native American groups tend to face when seeking mental health care, and why it’s generally difficult to reach those in need of care. We seek to educate on the cultural beliefs of Native groups, the reality of generational trauma and marginalization, and how to provide for the need for mental health care for a group that has limited access to care.  

Through spreading awareness of the need for Mental Health care for Native American Groups, we hope to move toward a change.  

Mental Health in the Indigenous Communities 

In 2021, it was found that 2.9% of America’s population is Native American, making this people group the smallest of the minorities in the states. However, 2.9% translates to 9.7 million people with Native heritage, which is still a relatively large population of people in need.  

Studies have shown that members of the Native and Indigenous populations are more apt to experience psychological distress, and co-occurring diagnoses as they begin to use substances to cope more than the average American. While there are many modern-day causes for Native individuals’ mental health care struggles, for many, the generational trauma originally established from the maltreatment of this people group in our country during colonization and throughout history, is a main cause.  

The repeated discrimination and marginalization of Native people often contribute to poor mental health in these individuals. This population has cultural roots of tribes, meaning they deeply value connectedness with their land, their ancestors, and others. However, these elements have been stripped from this community for generations, with forced relocations off of their land and the separation from members of their tribe and sometimes family.  

Additional factors, like isolation, race-based discrimination, and overall mistreatment Native people from the beginning of history (and throughout America’s history) has instilled roots of trauma, anxiety, and depression in many Native community members.  

While modern-day culture is actively destigmatizing mental health and receiving mental health care, not every culture aligns with this. Often, for Native and Indigenous populations, traditional healing systems culturally take precedence.  

These systems are often effective for members of this community, as they are based off their cultural values; for example finding healing by balancing mind, body and spirit and connecting with place, land and family members. However, for members displaced from their community and land utilizing these healing methods prove to be counterproductive.  

Additionally, in some tribes, there is a strong belief that traditional healing methods and ceremonies address and fully remedy serious mental health diagnoses. While oftentimes they can help individuals, sometimes structured professional mental health care needs to be used in tandem with these practices for individuals to achieve total, lasting healing. This is where mental health care providers need to partner with these underserved communities to aid in healing.  

Awareness and Access to Care is Crucial  

Unfortunately, long-standing discrimination and marginalization of native groups in the United States has caused these groups to face the highest level of poverty over other minority groups in the U.S.  with Natives facing almost twice the national rate of poverty (24.1% to the national rate of 12.8%). With this, other issues are present like food insecurity, limited access to education and employment, housing difficulties, and little or no access to life insurance causing limited healthcare access. With an often low quality of life due to these difficulties, it’s easy to understand why the state of the mental health of Native and Indigenous members is low.  

Not only is it systemically near impossible for these groups to receive mental health care, but culturally, there are boundaries in some cases as well. It is common for mental health stigma to prevent individuals of all cultural backgrounds from seeking care, and this applies to the case of the Native American community, as traditional healing methods are often utilized. Additionally, many Individuals belonging to Native groups may also have a lack of awareness of mental health overall or a lack of understanding of available mental health care.  

With these systemic and cultural boundaries strongly in place, we know it’s crucial to fight to increase access to proper health care for Native individuals. Our efforts could change and potentially save lives as, sadly The Trevor Project reports, 22% of Native and Indigenous young people attempted suicide, with 53% considering suicide.  

We all can help 

Promoting mental health in Indigenous communities involves recognizing and addressing the unique challenges these communities face. Here are some strategies to support mental health in Indigenous communities: 

Cultural Competence and Sensitivity 

  • Develop and implement culturally competent mental health programs that respect and incorporate Indigenous traditions, languages, and values. 
  • Train mental health professionals to be culturally sensitive and aware of the historical context and experiences of Indigenous communities. 

Community Involvement 

  • Engage with Indigenous community leaders, elders, and members to understand their specific needs and preferences regarding mental health support. 
  • Collaborate with Indigenous organizations to co-create and implement mental health initiatives.

Education and Awareness: 

At Galen Hope, we aim to spread awareness and access to care for all individuals in need of mental health and eating disorder support. We appreciate each individual we get to work with for who they are, no matter their gender, cultural background, or appearance. We work hard to ensure our centers are warm, welcoming places for people to come and find refuge and healing through the professional guidance of our elite staff.  

We have experts that can help individuals recover from the trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression or other mental health struggles that are manifested due to marginalization.   

the road to wellness starts by seeking help. today.       

Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, of all genders.       

To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.       

Belong. Heal. Grow.      

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