Friday, January 27, 2023
Home Health Recap: Discussing mental health of Native Americans

Recap: Discussing mental health of Native Americans


Reducing health care disparities requires understanding the unique perspectives and experiences of each patient, especially those from diverse backgrounds.

A Mental Health Equity Grand Rounds—hosted by the Department of Psychiatry and the Carver College of Medicine Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—addressed how colonialism and historical trauma have impacted the mental health of Native Americans and offered tools for health care providers in providing culturally competent care.

The speakers included:

  • Kelly M. ClougherPhD, associate director, University of Iowa Counseling Service, and descendent of the Ottawa Nation
  • Elle DriscollBA, research assistant, the Native Center for Behavioral Health and descendent of the Meskwaki and Winnebago Nations

Kelly Clougher, PhD, and Elleh Driscoll, BA

Clougher and Driscoll spoke on Native American experiences, mental health impacts, and how to implement traditional healing, and they offered culturally accurate approaches to care.

“We have been through so much, but through knowing our history and understanding our story, you can better realize why this is happening, and from that, you can better realize how to solve it,” says Driscoll.

Native American experiences

The speakers highlighted collective issues harming the Native American community, including colonialism, genocide, reservation conditions, Native American boarding schools, and skewed media portrayals.

As a result, there are several health conditions that disproportionately affect this community, including alcohol and drug use; suicide; MMIWG (missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls); loss of language, beliefs, and practices; poverty; and intergenerational trauma.

“I think as a health care provider it’s important that we come to patients with compassion and empathy,” Clougher says.

Traditional healing vs. western medicine

Clougher says it’s important to “unhook from some of the westernized, colonial ways of being educated” when considering this patient population.

The speakers emphasized the healing tradition of collectivism rather than individualism expressed in western healing. Traditional healing focuses more on balance, harmony, mystical divergences, and higher beings. In contrast, western healing is more fact-based, focusing on cognitions and behaviors.

What can health providers do?

The presentation offered health providers some tools to help improve mental health treatment for the Native American community:

    • Incorporating traditional healing and cultural interventions into mental health resources
    • Promoting community practices that emphasize research and treatment
    • Support and advocacy for both historical and cultural humility training programs
    • Strength-based approaches to clinics, training, and research that focus on well-being while still showing respect for the Native community



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