“How the US Mental Health System Makes Natives Sick and Suicidal”

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In Indian Country Today, MIA Blogger David Walker argues that, for indigenous peoples, the modern mental health system in North America often represents little more than a new form of colonialism and domination.

“What’s truly remarkable is that this is not the first time the mental health movement in Indian Country has helped to destroy Native people,” writes Walker. “Today’s making of a Mentally Ill Indian to ‘treat’ is just a variation on an old idea, a fitting example of George Santayana’s overused adage: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ The Native mental health system has been a tool of cultural genocide for over 175 years — seven generations. Long before there was this Mentally Ill Indian to treat, this movement was busy creating and perpetuating the Crazy Indian, the Dumb Indian, and the Drunken Indian.”

How the US Mental Health System Makes Natives Sick and Suicidal (Indian Country Today, June 18, 2015)

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This is one of those topics that reminds the decent white people that there is an evil within the way too paternalistic white society, and that evil needs to be extinguished. I, for one, am very sorry about what some evil white people have done, and seemingly continue to do, to the Native Americans, and all people of color.

  2. I’m grateful to have David Walker’s input as “Minority Mental Health Month” is on the horizon for July. Have been bracing for the usual calls to Raise Awareness and End the Stigma. What bothers me the most is the way these campaigns often blame the “culture” of various non-white communities, where the “Stigma” and “Silence” are supposedly worse than in the dominant culture.

    To my mind, stigma against people with mental or emotional problems is just as strong in the dominant culture. The difference — to the extent there really is one — is probably more that Black, Latino & Native American people are less likely to trust the mental health system. They’ve got good reasons for that.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I think everyone has a right to mental health care of whatever type they choose, just like physical health care. Minorities get far less access to health care for reasons that range from economics (more are poor) to institutional racism. And that’s wrong.

    But David Walker’s article convinces me that “identifying and treating native people who have depression” has made their lives worse not better. A mental health treatment that blinds itself to the real oppression and violence you face, and the real problems that make your daily life depressing, can’t help. It’s more likely to be humiliating and depressing in its own right, even if all the people are “nice.”

    Then there’s the pills — and we know poor children on Medicaid actually get more pills, and way more antipsychotics in particular, than children with private insurance. If anyone in the Black and Latino communities is getting “Identified and Treated” just as much if not more than whites, it’s the young children. And the results have been disastrous.

    So yeah, I’m 100% for access. But if someone doesn’t want it — or if they think their friends, or their church, or their cousin Patty is a better source of support — stop lecturing them! Respect their choice. They could be right. After all, even with all the burdens that racism puts on people of color, white Americans have much higher suicide rates, and always have.

    • Psychiatry’s main social role is to blame and silence the victims. It’s not what what was done to you that’s wrong – it’s your reaction to it. It’s not that you were abused – it’s that you have a sick brain. It’s a truly disgusting form of oppression.