“Indigenous'' describes any group of people native to a specific region. Overall, Native Americans experience serious psychological distress 1.5 times more frequently than the general American population. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among, and 2.5 times the national rate, for Indigeneous Youth. Despite these known statistics, mental health data is still lacking for Indigenous Youth due to stigmatization and inaccessibility of mental health care. It is important to bring awareness to Indigenous Youth mental health in order to break this cycle and provide better mental health care to this community.
Disparities within Indigenous Communities
Indigenous Youth mental health differs greatly from other cultural and racial groups. One of the major reasons for the high prevalence of mental health issues in this community is a high rate of homelessness. Although indigenous people represent less than 2% of the U.S population, they make up 8% of those who are unhoused. Additionally, nearly twice as many Indigenous people in America experience poverty and unemployment compared to whites. These disparities all contribute to added stress, lack of safety, fear, and poor physical health which all factor into mental health.
Additionally, there are many issues with treatment among Indigenous youth struggling with mental health. Diagnostic criteria were not created with indigenous or other cultural expressions in mind, so these groups may not meet the specific criteria needed for a labeled diagnosis due to expressing emotional distress differently. Due to cultural differences, Indigenous people may express emotional distress differently than the diagnostic criteria. Additionally, these groups of people may seek help from a spiritual or traditional healer rather than from mainstream medical sources due to differing beliefs. In addition to cultural differences, the high rates of poverty among Indigenous youth lead to economic barriers, preventing them from accessing treatment. Lastly, among these communities there is a lack of awareness about mental health issues and treatment options, which adds onto Indigenous youth lacking treatment options.
How Schools can Support Indigenous Students
Schools play a huge role in preventing and supporting Indigenous students struggling with mental health. It is common for school staff to feel unsure about how to best support Indigenous students due to not being educated enough. By building knowledge about Indigenous approaches to well-being, schools can learn how to best support their students through their different cultures and beliefs.
Historically, teachers have not always been effective in supporting Indigenous students as they have not been given resources about how best to do so. Indigenous students report feeling supported when teachers care about who they are as Indigenous people, expect them to succeed in education, and help them learn about their cultures, histories, and languages. Research has shown that teachers can best support Indigenous students by finding ways to provide extra support for these students, engaging their families and increasing the relationship between schools and parents, and monitoring and reporting to understand where progress is being made. Additionally, school systems can strengthen teachers’ knowledge by focusing on high quality early childhood education and care for Indigenous children.
Expanding Access: Digital Mental Health to Improve Well-Being
Personalized care: Many digital mental health platforms allow the user to customize the support to their needs. Neolth does this by providing a personalized self-care plan, and having customizable colors and themes in order to best benefit the user. The flexibility of digital mental health platforms also allows individuals to use the platform when they want, and access it in their own home, taking away travel time. This is especially beneficial for students who are constantly busy with academic and extracurricular activities.
More accessible and affordable: Digital mental health platforms are much more accessible to students due to their affordable cost. Many don’t seek treatment due to the high costs and insurance issues. The convenient access and availability of digital mental health platforms are a great way to overcome this barrier.
Eliminates stigma: With mental health stigma still being so loud, many do not seek help due to the fear of being judged by peers, family, and society in general. Digital mental health platforms offer a safe space with the option to be anonymous.
Ability to be preventative: Digital mental health platforms, through education and supportive resources, have the ability to prevent youth from reaching a point of crisis.
Neolth and Indigenous Mental Health
If you are a school counselor, administrator, or teacherwho is looking to learn about ways to best support Indigenous students, Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help you stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps you when you’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for your mental health journey. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students and teachers alike. You can learn more at neolth.com or sign up today at cloud.neolth.com.
About the Author:
Ali Green (she/her) is the Lead Editorial Intern at Neolth, and a rising undergraduate senior at Emory University. As a student studying psychology, she found a huge passion for mental health. Upon discovering Neolth and then becoming accepted as an editorial intern, she became super excited to be able to bring awareness, education, and resources to students worldwide. She believes that it is important to create more accessible education and support around mental health issues to reduce stigmas and increase understanding. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, graphic design, and reading.