Native Americans and Mental Health

Sara London, DO-IT Intern

A 2012 study revealed that Native American adults had one of the highest rates of mental illness compared to White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic adult populations. Native Americans indicated a high rate of using mental health services, prescription medication, and outpatient treatment compared to their counterparts. Native Americans experience higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence. (

Reasoning for these disparities in Native communities have been theorized to stem from historical trauma.

Historical trauma is the emotional and psychological wounding of a people caused by past generations. Some Native Americans have dealt with being stripped of their land, genocide of their people, and attempts to eliminate their cultural, ceremonial, and spiritual practices. These experiences have led to family histories of depression, substance abuse, and posttraumatic stress disorder. (

Despite these misfortunes, Native communities have been healing by reclaiming their cultures and traditional ways of life. Ceremonies and rituals are being practiced to reduce the trauma Native people have faced historically and in their daily realities. Some practices have been incorporated into mainstream medicine to reduce harmful effects from trauma. (

Devising ways to provide more help for mental illness within Native communities should include Native people themselves. Representation of more Native counselors, mental health providers, and doctors is desirable. Reclaiming their land, and culture and addressing the trauma of the past legacy of colonialism has and always will be in their practices and every day life.