November is National Native American Heritage Month. During this time, we celebrate and pay tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. We also shine a spotlight on some of the unique needs of their communities and some of the health disparities they face. Health outcomes for these communities are worse than the larger U.S. population in many ways. Whether it is from a higher rate of unintentional injuries, suicide or chronic liver disease, the life expectancy of American Indian and Alaskan Natives is five and a half years less than the larger U.S. population. SAMHSA is partnering with tribes and tribal organizations to reduce health disparities and promote better overall health.
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From a Physician Assistant in Fairbanks to a Vending Machine in Interior Alaska: Witnessing Tribal Health Solutions Firsthand
After visiting tribal communities in interior Alaska, Deputy Secretary Hargan praised the quality of care at Alaska Native health facilities.
A key piece to success in serving the American people involves going to them in person and hearing what is important in their lives. That was the reason that a large delegation from HHS recently made the trip to the interior of Alaska.
Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, as it is known in Indian Country, is an initiative aimed at improving the lives of Native youth by removing the barriers standing between them and their opportunity to success. Introduced by President Obama at the Tribal Nations Conference in December 2014, Gen-I was inspired by the President’s visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Nation the previous June.
Access to health care coverage that includes services for mental health and/or substance use disorders is critical for everyone. This is especially true for the American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) community, which faces some significant behavioral health challenges. According to a 2013 SAMHSA report, the rate of substance dependence or abuse among AI/ANs aged 12 or older was higher than any other population group. Among U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 17, Native youth have the highest lifetime prevalence of major depressive episodes. In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death—2.5 times the national rate—for Native male youth in the 15 to 24 year old age group.
Many American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth involved in the juvenile justice system are experiencing a mental and/or substance use disorder. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, the juvenile justice system in AI/AN communities is not able to provide prevention and related services which would help to steer youth in a more positive direction. The good news is community leaders are working hard to find help and treatment for these young people early on so that they can lead healthy and successful lives and avoid the juvenile justice system altogether.