Native American Mental Health Disparities

Aired on KQED Radio news.

A statewide study finds Native American ceremonies can help prevent mental illness among tribal members. The report, funded by California’s Department of Mental Health, recommends using state funds to revive cultural practices.

Oakland’s Native American Health Center led focus groups in eleven cities to produce the mental health disparities report. It found the major barrier to services is a lack of culturally appropriate care. Co-author Janet King says Native people are very community orientated — so mental health services need to reflect that.

“What doesn’t work is having a mental health program that’s only clinical visits with a psychiatrist,” King says. “And not cultural interventions with peers, cultural interventions with elders, cultural interventions with traditional healers.”

The study says mental health dollars should be spent on practices like ‘coming of age’ ceremonies for young people. It says these create a sense of wellness and balance that can prevent drug abuse, suicide, and related mental health problems.

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