Native American and Alaskan Native Mental Health
Current State of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives (NAAI)
There are about 4 million people who are part of the NAAI community, accounting for 1.3% of the American population. And despite being such a small percentage of the American population, NAAI individuals still suffer stark disparities: 26% of the NAAI population live in poverty compared to 12% of the general American population, contributing to several negative consequences with respect to not only their mental health, but access to mental health services as a whole.
Thus, when analyzing the mental health of those who identify with the NAAI community, it is important to note the socioeconomic patterns within the NAAI community, along with their cultural and societal backgrounds.
NAAI and Mental Health
Over 21% of the NAAI population was noted to have a diagnosable mental illness, similar to the general American population which is about 20% of individuals (1 in 5 Americans); however, about 33% of NAAI individuals have no health insurance, compared to only 11% of White Americans.
This remains the foundation for the many issues pertaining to the mental health of many NAAI individuals, as cost bars them from even seeking the help they need, developing a mental health disparity between NAAI individuals and White Americans.
This is coupled by the fact that NAAI individuals are perhaps one of the most vulnerable groups to victimization than any other group in the United States. In fact, it was found that they “have twice the rate of victimization than that of African Americans, and more than 2.5 times that of whites” [MHA].
This is of course no surprise simply due to the historical dynamic the NAAI community finds itself with the American state, whether it is being pushed onto reservations, manipulation through treaties (and sometimes even breaking them), along with consistent dehumanization to justify conquering the lands and peoples of the greater NAAI community.
These historical injustices have no doubt contributed to the disparities discussed above. It serves as a reminder of how we must dissect each issue through many lenses, with history and its consequences and implications never being ignored, for they lay the basis of our present circumstances. NAAI mental health, is no exception.
NAAI and Traditional Healing
There is a clear conflict between Western and and Traditional NAAI techniques when treating and approaching mental health and wellness as a whole, where Traditional NAAI techniques are much more holistic compared to Western techniques. Rather than isolating the issue to treat such as in Western techniques, Traditional NAAI methods serve to treat the person as a whole as it views issues being intertwined with many other issues.
Many from the NAAI community are actually more likely to seek this type of healing compared to Western approaches. In fact, it was found that “some 34 to 49% of those with diagnosed behavioral disorders used traditional healers and some 16% to 32% of [NAAI] people using biomedical services for emotional problems had also seen a traditional healer” [SAMHSA].
This has actually been cited as a great way to maintain one’s mental wellness, as connection with one’s culture allows one to develop a strong support system when living in a toxic environment against NAAI individuals.
Family, culture, and an adaptability to balance the modern world with tradition are therefore keys to a NAAI individual to not succumb to the depths of a mental illness.
AYANA and NAAI Help
We are committed to the persistent support of individuals from marginalized communities and expanding their access to not only mental health services, but mental health services which actually understand the cultural context which many ( such as NAAI individuals) find themselves in.
We understand how important traditional healing methods are to this community and seek to provide them this care as well, if it is what they want, along with Western techniques if that is what they seek as well. In short, we hope to provide those who have been so often neglected by the mental health sector with therapy that tackles their issues intimately, and the NAAI community is no different.