Mental Health Crisis within the Native America Community – Social Justice Issue

Mental health is an integral part of human life. It encompasses an individual’s social, cognitive and the psychological well-being throughout their lifetime. Proponents of universal social justice have identified it as an area of interest owing to its ability to negatively impact the lives of vulnerable persons during different stages of life. Mental health is capable of determining an individual’s thought process, their prevailing emotions and actions that eventually affect their quality of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) is uncompromising in stating that mental health is an emerging social justice issue that needs to be addressed (Who and World Health Organization).

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The transition from childhood, adolescence to adulthood is a fundamental part of the human experience that has to be treated with a level of importance. There a host of factors may be responsible for mental health illness. Biological factors, family history and a history of trauma are key causative factors. The Native American community is currently under siege due to the mental health crisis it faces. Out of the 1.2 % who identify as Native American, over 21% are diagnosed with a mental health disorder every year (“Native American Communities and Mental Health”). It is a particularly worrying scenario especially since the World Health Organization (WHO) also estimates that, on average, individuals with mental disorders die 15 to 25 years younger than their healthy counterparts (Who and World Health Organization). In the All the Women in My Family Sing anthology, Elian Ramage exposes the debilitating influence of mental health issues on Native American communities. Her essay dubbed Indian Territory focuses on the vicissitudes of life in the reservation and its impact on 21st century Native Americans. Thus, it is critical to evaluate the Native American mental health crisis, its manifestations and viable solutions to help contain using appropriate references from Ramage’s essay.

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            The mental health crisis within the Native American community is firmly rooted in the colonization and subjugation of aboriginal peoples of North America. The arrival of European settlers was bound to set them on a collision path with Amerindians While the enterprising former focused on massive grabs and working their estates, the Native Americans wanted to preserve their way of life. Royal directives such as the 1775 Phips Proclamation explicitly outlined the legality of using any available opportunity to pursue Native Americans and killing them to occupy their land (Junger 56). British colonialists took this a step further and offered to pay settlers for native scalps. Although most Native American tribes had been pacified by the turn of the 19th century, bands of plains Indians still posed a threat to white settlers. The Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, Seminole and Choctaw popularly referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes were identified as potential candidates for relocation. Thus, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1930s decreeing the removal of these tribes from federal territory located on the western side of the Mississippi River marking the beginning of genocide. Nearly 100,000 Native Americans died during this relocation. Trail of Tears revealed the extent that the federal government was willing to go to remove the Native Americans from their land. Men, women and children died during this trail as a result of this policy. Ramage describes how they left Georgia for Indian Territory on gunpoint and how this affected their identity as a people (Packer). Native reserves caged aboriginal people and negatively impacted their lives. They could not hunt buffalo as they used to and were even forced to relinquish their native languages for English which was taught in Catholic boarding schools. In Ramage’s Indian Territory essay,she expresses her disgust for this blatant abuse and how it is still perpetuated in the United States (Packer). The fact that a political aspirant visited President Andrew Jackson’s tomb and laid a wreath goes to show the disregard that particular individuals in mainstream America have for Native American sentiments.

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            Mental health issues and drug dependency is a typical reality in Native reserves. It is an epidemic of epic proportions that has stalled any progress that would have been made by Native peoples. Exploitation, sublimation of culture and identity suppression serves as primary reasons why a majority of Native Americans suffer from mental illness. One little-known fact is that the US trustee relationship that the federal government shares with Native Americans plays a major role in making individuals susceptible to mental health disorders (Matsumoto and Juang 44). In essence, the federal government functions as a guardian to its Native American subject since they govern their land. The resulting effect was a low socioeconomic status and high rates of poverty that are still evident in many reservations. Coupled with the historical trauma that they have suffered as a people, many Native Americans are pushed beyond the threshold of sanity. It is common for them to feel invisible in a country that is ranked top among the most prosperous nations in the globe. Depression soon sets in among individuals relegated to spending their lives in reserves due to the hopelessness that sets in. Additionally, substance abuse is a common phenomenon in these reserves. Child welfare officials report that children often start using drugs early since they may have witnessed its use in their households. As a result, tragic suicides are now frequent with persons from this demography due to the self-destructive behaviors that many of them find solace in. In Indian Territory, Ramage relates a story about one of her cousin who left for Namibia to teach English (Packer). He committed suicide shortly after returning from his trip and for he couldn’t bear to live a despondent life in the reserve. Although federal agencies such as the Indian Health Service (HIS) provide competent care, they have failed to provide elaborate mental health services. Government priorities and spending are focused on other “pressing” matters, with mental health is being viewed as a mundane issue, yet it is the leading cause of premature death among Native Americans.

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 The government is uniquely positioned to help Native Americans access and use mental health services. Establishing trust between community members and the U.S government is one of the most important steps to implement while seeking to resolve the mental health crisis in Native reserves. Constant communication with the inhabitants creates a rapport that also goes a long way when seeking to develop strategies that would benefit those in need. Due to the historical conflict between the federal government and Native American, an air of suspicion has always surrounded their interactions. It is, therefore, not surprising that most Native Americans are unaware of the availability of mental health services. Staffing reserves with health care providers such as social workers, psychologists and counselors is also an important step in managing mental health issues (Sarche, et al. 56). These individuals will be tasked with conducting community visits in an effort to build trust with the local communities. Moreover, they will also play a major role in building bridges that connect the federal government to the Native Americans. Health workers also play an important role with regard to mental health awareness. It is critical for Native American subjects to be adequately concerning mental health illnesses and their effects on the human mind.

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Through such initiatives, they will become more cognizant of mental disorders and understand that they are diseases just like any other that can be clinically treated. Adequate funding will also go a long way in facilitating these initiatives. It will ensure that health care providers are remunerated and provided with resources which would make it possible to travel and meet vulnerable individuals. Representative community studies also present a fundamental strategy that may aid in resolving the mental health crisis within the Native America community. Members are always reminded that mental health services were incepted for their own benefit which is why they have to participate fully. Activities such as refilling mental health prescription regularly and attending therapy will always ensure that available resources are utilized. Studies of mental health systems such as those used in Alaska may also help since specific health care will be provided to patients in a fast and efficient manner.            

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In conclusion, the mental health crisis among Native Americans is a contemporary social justice discussed in Elian Ramage’s Indian Territory and warrantsan in-depth evaluation. Historical traumas steeped in genocide have resulted in Native Americans being a marginalized community living with mental health disorders in society’s fringes. Nevertheless, it can be resolved by partnering with local comminutes to gain a better understanding of mental illness while partnering with medical experts.

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