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Mental Health America works nationally and locally to raise awareness about mental health and ensures that those
at-risk for mental illnesses and related disorders receive proper, timely and effective treatment. MHA incorporates
culturally competent strategies to ensure that it is effectively addressing the treatment and psychosocial needs of
consumers and families with diverse values, beliefs, sexual orientations, and backgrounds that vary by race, ethnicity
and/or language.


Demographics/Societal Issues

  • Approximately 1.2% of the U.S. population, or roughly 4 million Americans, identify themselves as having Native
    American or Alaska Native heritage. [1]
  • There are 566 federally recognized Native American tribes and Native Americans speak more than 200 indigenous
    languages. [2][3]
  • Most Native Americans live in Western states. About two-thirds now live in urban, suburban, or rural
    non-reservation areas; about one-third live on reservations. [3]
  • Native Americans have twice the rate of victimization than that of African Americans, and more than 2.5 times that
    of whites. [3]
  • Compared to the total U.S. population, more than twice as many Native Americans live in poverty. In 2013, Native
    American men and women were nearly twice as likely as whites to be unemployed. [4]


  • There have not been many studies about Native American attitudes regarding mental health and mental illness. There
    is a general Native American worldview that encompasses the notions of connectedness, reciprocity, balance and
    completeness that frames their views of health and well-being. Studying this experience may help lead to the
    rediscovery of the fundamental aspects of psychological and social well-being and the mechanisms for their


  • Native Americans experience serious psychological distress 1.5 times more than the general population. href="#Source 3">[3]
  • Native Americans experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general population. [3]
  • Although overall suicide rates are similar to those of whites, there are significant differences among certain age
    groups. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10-34 year olds; whereas, the suicide rate among Native
    Americans that are more than 75 years old is only one-third of the general population. [3]
  • Native Americans use and abuse alcohol and other drugs at younger ages, and at higher rates, than all other ethnic
    groups. [3]

Treatment Issues

  • The concept of mental illness and beliefs about why and how it develops have many different meanings and
    interpretations among Native Americans. Physical complaints and psychological concerns are not distinguished and
    Native Americans may express emotional distress in ways that are not consistent with standard diagnostic categories.
  • Native Americans appear to use alternative therapies at rates equal to or greater than whites. In fact, research
    has found that Native American men and women who meet the criteria for depression, anxiety, or substance abuse
    disorders are significantly more likely to seek help from a spiritual healer than from specialty or other medical
    sources. [3]
  • Due to high levels of poverty, many Native Americans face economic barriers that prevent them from receiving
    treatment. [3]
  • Lack of awareness about mental health issues and services can prevent Native Americans from receiving treatment.


  • Access to mental health services is severely limited by the rural, isolated location of many Native American
    communities. Additionally, access is limited because most clinics and hospitals of the Indian Health Service are
    located on reservations, yet the majority of Native Americans no longer reside on reservations. [3]
  • Compared to whites, three times as many Native Americans lack health insurance – 33% compared to 11%.
    Approximately 57% of Native Americans rely on the Indian Health Service for care. [3]

Partnerships and Resources


(1) United States Census Bureau. (2014). Quick facts. Retrieved from

(2) Bureau of Indian Affairs. (2016). Indian entities recognized and eligible to receive services
from the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. Federal Register, 81(19), 5019-5025

(3) American Psychiatric Association. (2010). Mental health disparities: American Indians and
Alaska Natives.

(4) Austin, A. (2013). High unemployment means Native Americans are still waiting for an economic recovery. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from