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The scourge of poverty, abuse and mental illness in Native American communities

Posted on 09-23-15 in Mental Health

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Experts have remarked on the 566 tribes living in the United States dealing with rampant poverty, suicide and drug problems, among other societal issues. Theresa M. Pouley, the chief judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court in Washington state and a member of the Indian Law and Order Commission, finds one-quarter of Native American children live in poverty versus the 13 percent overall average in the United States.

High school graduation rates are 17 percent lower than the general population. Substance abuse rates are higher than any other demographic and children experience twice the rate of abuse and neglect compared to other children.

In response to these kinds of statistics, the Department of Justice commissioned the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence for more information. Their efforts brought up more than 150 witnesses from North Dakota, Arizona, Florida and Alaska, leading to thousands of pages in findings.

These surveys confirmed Native American children experience abuse more than any other demographic in the nation.

“The immediate and long term effects of this exposure to violence includes increased rates of altered neurological development, poor physical and mental health, poor school performance, substance abuse, and overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system,” the report concluded.

The report also found the history of discrimination against the Native American lineage contributes to many ills facing the community. This persecution existed in many forms, such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which necessitated brutal marches of Native Americans west of the Mississippi River. This government initiative, more commonly known as “The Trail of Tears,” resulted in many deaths due to starvation, exposure and disease.

Versions of these problems still exist today in these communities. Diseases like diabetes and tuberculosis along with physical injuries strike more often among Native Americans compared to other communities.

Taking on all of the mental and medical problems facing this population is difficult for many reasons, one being the general distrust some Native American people feel toward government programs and officials.

That said, the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence recommends governments work to respect the sovereignty of Native American nations, establish a Native American Affairs Office within the White House Domestic Policy Council to address issues special to these communities and direct more funds to Native American tribes needing resources for prosecuting criminals and protecting abused youth.

Mental health professionals with Sovereign Health Group are sympathetic to patients dealing with different kinds of stigma, addiction and mental illness. Dealing with past child abuse is especially traumatic but can be addressed with treatment. Find help today by calling to talk to a member of our team.

Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer