Native American culture utilizes several approaches to mental health disorders. There are hundreds of different tribes living in the United States and their views may differ from tribe to tribe. Native Americans were generally positively disposed toward medication as a treatment modality but were, by far, the least convinced of the benefits of psychotherapy (Hunt, Sullivan, Shavira, Stein, Craske, Golinelli, Roy-Byrne, Sherbourne, 2013). Many tribes prefer traditional healers rather than seeking psychotherapy.
Native Americans stress the importance of their family unit. They adhere to their culture and heritage and look to tribal elders for their wisdom. Due to their strong sense of family, having open discussions regarding mental health are more prevalent than they may be in other cultures. Research shows that Indigenous men and women who meet criteria for depression/anxiety or substance use disorder are significantly more likely to seek help from traditional/spiritual healers than from other sources (psychiatry.org, 2017).
Traditional healing practices are still necessary due to the fact that Indians/Natives have difficulty accessing mental health services because of economic barriers, social and cultural differences, mistrust, and the lack of providers (Maine.gov, 2009). There are many factors that influence health outcomes, poverty, historical trauma, under-employment, lack of healthcare, lower educational attainment and housing problems are a few of the issues they face.
Today Native Americans frequently combine traditional healing practices with allopathic medicine to promote health and wellbeing. Ceremony, native herbal remedies, and allopathic medications are used side by side. Spiritual treatments are thus an integral part of health promotion and healing in Native American culture (Koithan, Farrell, 2010).
The Indian Health Service, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for providing federal health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives (IHS.gov, 2020). The IHS are working on serving the underserved rural and low-income Native American communities.
However, despite financial appropriations to serve about 1.5 million eligible American Indians, IHS funding for mental health treatment is not able to keep up with the demand. To contain the costs, managed mental healthcare policies in the PHS favor the prescription of psychotropic medications in lieu of psychotherapeutic services (Shahidullah, 2013).
Psychologist at the IHS are trained and aware of the unique needs of the Native community. They are aware of the tribal views on mental illness, treatment and healing. The approaches of Western medicine must be provided within the context of the spiritual beliefs and traditional approaches of Indian Medicine (Shahidullah, 2013).
Overall Native Americans seem similar to other cultures when it comes to treating mental illness and the use of medications. They want to follow tradition of their past, yet recognize that there may be a need for medication. Their adherence to their holistic approach is most favorable for the psychotherapy aspect. They prefer to follow what has been passed down for generations.
- (2020). Retrieved 23 January 2020, from https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/public-health-systems/lho/documents/apa_american-indians.pdf
- (2020). Retrieved 23 January 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261876451_The_Use_of_Psychotropic_Medications_in_the_IHS_Considerations_for_Embedding_Medical_Psychology_within_a_Cultural
- About IHS | Indian Health Service (IHS). (2020). Retrieved 23 January 2020, from https://www.ihs.gov/aboutihs/
- Referrers, F., Supports, F., Services, C., you., F., locations., E., & Admission, C. et al. (2020). Starting the Conversation about Mental Health in the Native American Community. Retrieved 23 January 2020, from https://www.sheppardpratt.org/news-views/story/starting-conversation-about-mental-health-native-american-co/
- Hunt, J., Sullivan, G., Chavira, D., Stein, M., Craske, M., & Golinelli, D. et al. (2020). Race and Beliefs About Mental Health Treatment Among Anxious Primary Care Patients. Retrieved 23 January 2020, from