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Native American Depression and Substance Abuse Go Hand-In-Hand

If you’re struggling with addiction or substance abuse issues, chances are you’re also struggling with some depression. At the very least, you may feel deep sadness or cycles of sadness now and then. After all, oftentimes, substance abuse and depression go hand-in-hand.

Depression and similar psychological issues certainly feel tough to endure. Often, they can lead to individuals seeking comfort in maladaptive ways. Research has shown that Native Americans tend to have a higher rate of dealing with such issues in ways that can be harmful, such as drinking or taking drugs.

We’re not just talking about adults either, as studies have discovered that within some tribes, children aged 10 and 11-years old have admitted to substance abuse.

The Root Of The Problem

One way to fix an issue is to look at factors or the root causes. Yet, with addiction, it’s not always that straightforward. This is because, when it comes to mental health and well-being, the causative factors may be hard to pin down. Is depression within the Native American community the cause of substance abuse, or is it the other way around?

This isn’t to downplay the seriousness of the situation at hand. Young Native Americans (aged between 15 and 19) have double the rate of suicides than non-Hispanic whites. Also, within the wider population of Native Americans, there are two and a half times more reported cases of psychological issues than that found in other groups.

PTSD is also a contributing factor for depression. One study reports that mood disorders and antisocial personalities are reported by 83% of Native American women which can lead to PTSD. Other contributing factors to PTSD within the wider Native American community are loss of identity, childhood trauma, racism, and, for females, a struggle against traditional gender roles. This may lead to individuals seeking comfort in alcohol or drugs.

Defining The Term “Depression” Can Vary

Those who work among a range of cultural groups will tell you that the concept of depression varies between cultures. That means there can be no “one blanket fits all” approach when creating treatment programs for individuals who are suffering from depression.

Thinking that there is one solution for all can exacerbate the problem due to perceived cultural insensitivity and lack of understanding about the individual’s personal needs and requirements.

A study of successful Native American recovery programs indicates that there is input by tribal elders and a deep appreciation of the spiritual side of this community. Depression should be defined within the context of Native American tribal society and beliefs. Then programs ought to be designed around this conceptualization.

What Is Required By Mental Health Professionals?

Mental health professionals that work with Native Americans struggling with addiction and/or depression ought to have the following characteristics:

  • Being skilled in therapy (this addresses the issue of cultural understanding and sensitivity)
  • Kindness
  • Empathy (putting oneself in the client’s shoes and appreciating their situation)
  • Professionalism (an area that covers trust, confidentiality, and acknowledging any shortcomings that the therapist may have).

When dealing with individuals who have experienced trauma, there can be a barrier of mistrust and defensive walls built up that need to be broken down in order to make the first and subsequent steps in recovery.

Therapists who embrace and exhibit the above traits set themselves with what is needed to successfully get alongside those who are seeking help to overcome their substance abuse.

Factors That Limit Native Americans In Seeking Help For Recovery

Though there are programs that are available to support Native Americans with depression and substance abuse, there can be several factors that affect this community from seeking out the help they need.

When compared to the general population within the US, it is reported that there are twice as many Native Americans living in poverty than any other group. This means that, even if one desires to get help for their substance abuse, often they cannot afford the cost of the therapy.

Also, those Native Americans who live in rural areas may have a lack of transportation, so they are unable to travel to get the help they need.

Lack of awareness regarding treatment programs presents another challenge to those who desire help for their depression. On top of this, some programs suffer from underfunding and may not have the appropriate cultural resources to meet the specific needs of Native Americans.

Providing Hope

Unfortunately, the Native American population is over-represented in a lot of areas such as youth suicide figures, alcoholism, and poverty. Feelings of hopelessness can contribute to the onset of depression and other psychological disorders. When treatment is unavailable or unaffordable, individuals turn to other means of coping with the issue: alcohol and substance abuse.

Some treatment programs do provide on-site visitation to tribal lands so that those who are incapable of travel get the help they so desperately need. In addition, culturally-sensitive programs help one reconnect with their tribe, ancestral spirits and provide an individual with a sense of identity offer Native Americans the hope that they may be seeking. Then they have a more viable option to choose other than alcohol of drugs when dealing with depression and other negative emotions.

Substance Abuse Treatment For Native Americans

Here at Sunrise Native Recovery, we’re passionate about helping Native Americans’ overcome substance abuse or addiction problems. We take serious the role of culture and incorporate culturally relevant modes of treatment into our programs. 

We also treat depression, as it oftentimes goes hand in hand with substance abuse. We have a team of highly skilled, professional therapists and addiction experts that can help you work through any past trauma, mental or emotional issues/disorders, as well as help you create a better life moving forward.

Feel free to reach out to us today with any questions or concerns. Whether it’s you or a loved one, we’re here to help you navigate the road of recovery one step at a time.  You can create a better life for yourself, as well as future generations. Reach out today.

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