TCUs Addressing Native American Mental Health Disparities

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Rachel Bryan

It is too often that we see headlines about celebrity suicides, but these articles rarely help us to understand the impact of suicide in various communities. Did you know that Native American suicide rates are 10 to 20 times higher than the US national average and higher than all other racial/ethnic groups? In addition to coping with “a history of race-based policy, discrimination, and oppression,” Native American communities also experience high rates of substance abuse, sexual assault, and violence, all of which are intertwined with mental health. Native Americans need access to resources that are specific to supporting their mental health, and thankfully, tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are responding to this call. Understanding that Native American students attending TCUs have to adjust to college life while coping with the struggles of their communities, TCUs are offering resources including psychological counseling, drug and substance abuse services, sexual assault and domestic violence services, and family counseling.

Fortunately, many TCUs have begun to offer basic psychological counseling, also referred to as personal counseling. For example, institutions including the College of the Muscogee Nation, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Haskell Indian Nations University, the Institute for American Indian and Alaska Native Culture/Institute for the American Indian Arts, Sinte Gleska University, Oglala Lakota College, Salish Kootenai College, Sitting Bull College, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Stone Child College, and United Tribes Technical College are among the TCUs that offer their students psychological counseling. These centers are prepared to address a wide variety of psychological issues that are overrepresented in the Native American population, such as PTSD and depression.   

Additionally, many TCUs are offering counseling specific to drug and substance abuse, since Native Americans “use and abuse alcohol and other drugs at younger ages, and at higher rates, than all other ethnic groups.” For example, College of the Muscogee Nation, Navajo Technical University, Sinte Gleska University, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Stone Child College, Turtle Mountain Community College, and United Tribes Technical college all provide services specific to drug and substance abuse. These services include workshops, personal counseling, group counseling, education programs, resources, and referrals to community resources.

Sadly, 84% of Native American women have experienced violence, with more than half experiencing domestic or sexual violence. In addition, the United States Department of Justice “declined to prosecute more than half of the cases of violence on Indian Country, and of the cases, 67 percent of them were sexual violence.” Of those that were not declined, only 13% led to arrests. Fortunately, TCUs including Oglala Lakota College, Salish Kootenai College, and United Tribes Technical College all provide services related to sexual assault and domestic violence. These services include educational programs, victim assistance, counseling, and referrals.

Family is an important value in Native American culture, some TCUs have extended their mental health resources to the immediate family members of their students. For example, United Tribes Technical College, and the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture, also known as the Institute of the American Indian Arts, offer family counseling. Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College also has a Student Family Support Center, which provides resources to students “trying to balance the responsibilities of parenting, family, and work with the goals of achieving a college education and maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” though these resources are specific to students. Family access is key because those in more rural and isolated Native American communities can experience difficulty when seeking mental health resources.

In sum, while not all TCUs are offering mental health services, many are addressing the mental needs of the Native American community. It is important to remember that these resources may not be available at all TCUs due to funding, capacity, and the lack of these resources does not necessarily reflect the TCUs’ stance on mental health. For TCUs that are offering mental health resources, I encourage you to advertise it clearly on your website and be proud that you are providing services that both expand and nurture the minds of your students!

Resources:

American Psychiatric Association & Office of Minority and National Affairs. (2010). Mental Health Disparities: American Indians and Alaska Natives. Retrieved from https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/workforce/mental_health_disparities_american_indian_and_alaskan_natives.pdf

Center for Disease Control and Prevention & United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). Fact sheet: Health disparities in suicide. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/chdir/2011/factsheets/suicide.pdf

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). CDC Fatal Injury Reports, 2004-2013. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal_injury_reports.html

Conrad, C., & Gasman, M. (2015). Educating a diverse nation: Lessons from minority-serving institutions. Harvard University Press.

Peterson-Hickey, M. (2015). American Indians, Mental Health, and the Influence of History. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2015/11/american-indians-mental-health-and-the-influence-of-history

Racine, E. (2017). #NotInvisible: The Plight of Native American Women and Sexual Violence Lakota People’s Law Project. Retrieved from https://www.lakotalaw.org/news/2017-12-05/notinvisible

Student Family Support Center. (2018). Retrieved from https://fdltcc.edu/student-support/young-student-parent-program/