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Structural Barriers To Mental Health Services Found In American Indian Communities

Empty waiting room

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults will experience some form of mental illness this year. However, researchers reveal there are disparities in funding and treatment for mental health. 

Since 1990, the United States has recognized a full week in October as Mental Illness Awareness Week. This year it is October 6 - 12.  However, in a recent seminar by Dr. Joseph Gone of Harvard University, attendees learned that much of the funding and research centered around mental health illness ignores American Indian populations. 

“Specifically we know that there are inequities or disparities in mental health in American Indian reservation and urban populations," he said. "We also know that mental health services to those communities are deeply underfunded.”

As part of his presentation, Gone describes the notion of historical trauma and its role in shaping current day health disparities. 

“The original proponent of historical trauma for American Indian communities is a social work researcher named Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, and she as well as Ed and Bonnie Duran promoted an idea that mental health and behavioral health problems in Indian communities today really arise from this context of colonization,” Gone said.  

While honoring the past, Gone pushes forward by advocating for the current needs of American Indian communities, which include adequate resources and the acknowledgment of cultural practice and tradition. 

Gone was the keynote speaker at last week’s symposium on Race, Ethnicity and Health on Utah State University’s Logan campus. Presenter bios from the symposium can be found here

For additional details on this topic see Dr. Gone's personal website here