The Effect of Reservation Life on the Mental Health of Native Americans

Author(s): Ustat Goraya

Mentor(s): Thomas Wood, Honors College


Since the European colonization of the Americas, the natives have been subjugated and the sovereign nations that persisted were eradicated from existence through forced diaspora, the most infamous one being the Trail of Tears which caused a tremendous loss of life. Today, with a major portion of the Native American population decimated, the Natives are still not given the care they deserve. Even though reservations have been made for them, the life on the reservations lacks the most fundamental resources one needs in today’s day and age. Because of this, many suffer mental distress. Due to a lack of funds and other basic facilities, it can be inferred that to a significant extent, reservation life is contributing to mental health issues among Native American communities, one of the most major ones being substance use disorders due to insufficient healthcare resources and suicide due to a social isolation.

Other communities have the benefits of health insurance, care but for Native Americans, attaining that itself is a struggle and this contributes to higher rates of addictions among the community and unattended issues. Also, social support is vital for any human being but the fact that Native Americans are not getting enough of that is contributing towards suicide rates in the community, especially in adolescents. To improve this situation, more legislation needs to pass to allocate funds for resources and a greater representation is needed. Programs like the American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act of 2020 need to pass.

Video Transcript

The Effect of Reservation Life on the Mental Health of Native Americans. 

The United States is a role model for the rest of the world to look up to due to its diverse nature and the way it treats its immigrant and minority populations. Ironically though, the people who actually belong to the land, the Native Americans, have been one of the most underserved and one of the most underrepresented groups in the entirety of the United States. This can be seen through the course of history: For example the Trail of Tears which is a forced diaspora of this ethnic group in the United States. And even today, a lack of resources like health and financial resources contributes to mental health issues in this population. Because of this, it can be hypotheiszed that reservation life is detrimentally impacting the mental health of Native Americns due to SUDS, substance use disorders, increasing due to insufficient healthcare on reservations and suicide rates skyrocketing due to Social isolation on reservations. 

Native American adults exhibit the highest rates of binge drinking and drug use in comparison to other ethnic groups in this country. And because of this, they are twice as likely to develop SUDs in comparison to the rest of the population The IHS, which is the Indian Health Service, is made for this group, but Because it is severely underfunded, it can deny services to treat these disorders. And because of this, it causes Native Americans to pay out of pocket. But there is another issue with that because they are more likely to be uninsured in comparison to the rest of the population .Even if there are clinics that have treatments, There are no means of manufacture or distribution. SUDs exist in all populations but the fact that resources are lacking on reservations exacerbates and elongates the issue on reservations.

Suicide rates are also skyrocketing due to social isolation. In fact, Native American youth exhibits the highest rate of suicide in all of New Mexico. And New Mexico has twice the national average for suicide. This shows the magnitude Of the problem in this community. For a better mental health scenario to occur there need to be more community inclusion campaigns and support systems. But unfortunately, Native American reservations are starting to lack just that. When they begin, there were tipis of 8 people, And now, after they started to mimic more of the American society, smaller households started developing which increased the lack of contact. And as a result, this increased social deprivation in the youth and suicide rates. Even the Interpersonal Psych Theory suggests that suicide is pushed due to long social isolation. Unfortunately reservations are heading towards just that.

This is a graph that shows Suicidal Thoughts, planning attempts among the American Indian Adults. In the Blue we see 2008 and in the lime green you can see 2018. And there are three categories: serious thoughts, made a plan, attempted. And in all three of these categories, rates have increased in just a decade.

Many may say that reservations are not that detrimental due to the existence of agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the IHS but the fact that four out of five lowest expectancy counties are located on reservation lands shows that whatever is being done by the national government is not enough. In the 2019 year, The 35-day shut down impacted IHS which caters to 2.56 million Native Americans and it did not significantly affect Medicare and Medicaid. And this shows the turbulent nature of the organization. Many may say that they live on reservations And they are not required to live on reservations But given the historical trauma this group has gone through, where in the Trail of Tears 10,000 people lost their lives, it can be understood why they want to live on reservations together to preserve the culture and preserve the community that has been decimated over a long period of time. Given all these situations, it can be reasonably concluded that the hypothesis is most likely correct . To improve the scenario, there needs to be more legislation that passes and for that to happen, there needs to be more representation of Native Americans in Congress. Currently there’s about 4 to 5 congressman and congressman Ted Cole created The Alaska native veterans mental health Act of 2020 which says that the VA, Veterans Association, health clinics will each have a personnel to make sure that the mental health needs of Native American veterans is met. Because this plan is catering only to veterans In the Native American Community, it is not enough. There need to be de-stigmatization mental health campaigns because mental health is a taboo.  And there can be outpatient clinics with interdisciplinary teams where the professionals will come because a lot of professionals do that for free and they can look at the entire reservation. Thank you!

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