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Minority Mental Health Month: Native Americans

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the experiences of minority groups or the disparities and oppression they face every day. I am a counselor and this is the result of my personal research on the subject in hopes to educate and help others with the information I find.

Native American Mental Health Statistics

  • Native Americans reported higher rates of mental health symptoms at 13% compared to 9% for the general population.

  • 1.3% of the United States population is Native American or Alaskan Native – over 19% of those report having a mental illness.

  • The death rate by suicide for Native/Indigenous people in the United States between age 15 and 19 is more than double that of the non-Hispanic white population.


“Many Native/Indigenous tribes embrace a worldview that encompasses the notions of connectedness (with the past and with others), strong family bonds, adaptability, oneness with nature, wisdom of elders, meaningful traditions and strong spirit that may serve as protective factors when it comes to mental health.” (Mental Health America). This should make mental health more conducive for Native Americans, but it is important to remember the population that is responsible for mental health treatment in America – it is predominately white.

Because of this fact, the worldview and spiritual beliefs of Native Americans are often overlooked during mental health treatment which could lead to lower rates of success when working with Native American clients. Learning about and incorporating spiritual beliefs into therapy sessions could be what makes or breaks the relationship and the success of therapy for Native American clients even more than other races.

Socioeconomic Status

  • Compared to the overall US population, nearly twice as many Native/Indigenous people in live in poverty and are nearly twice as likely as the non-Hispanic white population to be unemployed.

  • Many Native/Indigenous communities suffer from limitations by the rural, isolated location of their communities. Although there are Indian Health Service hospitals and clinics on most reservations, the majority of Native Americans live outside tribal areas and still struggle to find access to healthcare and mental healthcare.

  • Compared to the non-Hispanic white population, nearly 3 times as many Native/Indigenous people had no health insurance. Approximately 43 percent of Native/Indigenous people in America rely on the Medicaid or public coverage.

Provider Bias

One obvious bias against Native Americans in Mental Health treatment is that there is no specific spirituality-based counseling service to meet the needs of Native American clients. There are faith-based programs and pastoral counseling groups all over the united states, but Spirituality-based counseling is virtually unheard of.

As mentioned before, Native/Indigenous tribes embrace contentedness, oneness with nature, and spirituality. As a counselor, I see these values as wonderful tools to be used to increase mental health and wellness with my clients. Even so, there isn’t a platform or a group for Native American Spirituality-based counseling. This is an overt example of mental health-wide bias against Native Americans. It just adds to the personal biases and lack of education individual counselors/therapists may deal with.




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