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May 2022 Newsletter: MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS
TRIGGER WARNING: This newsletter will be covering sensitive topics. Please read at your own discretion. 

Mental Health in the Native community remains a taboo subject for many and yet we are one of the most vulnerable groups who are affected at high rates. With Mental Health Awareness Month coming to an end, this newsletter will cover the challenges we face in relation to mental health, how the onslaught of COVID-19 has exacerbated these issues within our communities and lastly offer recommendations that are essential for prioritizing self care during these unprecedented times. 


IDENTIFYING THE ISSUES WE FACE

Based on the numerous factors that contribute to an estimated 70% of Native American and Alaska Native populations who currently suffer from mental health issues, the main cause can be attributed to cultural loss and historical trauma from colonial efforts to separate us from our lands and traditional ways of being. While these tactics ultimately failed, what resulted from these actions have shifted into many of the disparities we now face today.
Native American and Alaska Native populations experience high rates of the following:
  • Inadequate Healthcare
    • According to the 2019 Census Data, Native American and Alaska Natives are among the highest rate of uninsured Americans in the United States at 28%.
    • Of those within the Native population who have access to IHS, they only receive 1/3rd of healthcare funding compared to the average American.
    • Native population lifespan on average is 5 years less than the White American.
  • Mental Health Disorders
    • Native Americans and Native Alaskans face higher rates of psychological distress than the general population by 1.5% (pre-pandemic).
    • During the pandemic there was an increase of prevalence of anxiety and depression by upwards of 25%.
    • Native Americans and Alaska Native living in urban areas estimated around 70% and 63% of men and women respectively met criteria for a lifetime psychiatric disorder. Comparing to 62% and 53% of non-Hispanic White men and women who met the criteria. 
    • In 2021 the 19% of the Native population experienced reporting a mental health illness. This would amount to 830,000 individuals.
  • Substance Abuse
    • Substance abuse and alcoholism across tribal nations range from 21-56% for men and 17-30% for women. These estimates are higher than the U.S. National averages (19% for men and 8.9% for women). * Native populations across tribal nations have a range of variability of substance abuse and alcoholism.*
    • The rate of alcohol use in February 2022 (35.9%) and past year (54.3%) is higher in the Native population than other ethnic groups.
    • The rate of alcoholic use disorder is higher than the total of the population, 7.1% to 5.4% respectively.
    • 1 in 6 adolescents (12-17) engage in underage drinking. This is the highest rate of alcohol use of all ethnic groups. 
  • Suicide
    • In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for the Native population.
    • The death rate from suicide is around 20% higher than to the non-Hispanic white population.
    • In 2019, the death rate for suicide in adolescent(15-19) female Natives was above 5 times higher than non-Hispanic white females.
Why not take a moment and breathe?

KNOWING WHEN TO SEEK HELP

                                    
It isn't easy knowing when to seek out help and telling someone else that you may need help. There's so many obstacles we face in and out of our communities, but you shouldn't feel like you have to do it all on your own. 

DEALING WITH DEPRESSION

Depression is different for everyone. Some people may not notice their symptoms of depression. It's important to have frequent check ins with yourself to determine if you need additional resources outside of yourself. Remember, you are your own Number One! While depression typically occurs once in a lifetime, the “waves” of it being better or worse is typically known as “episodes.” While people will experience different variations of symptoms, the most common ones are: 

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

Depression in children and teens may experience different symptoms. It’s important to be aware of children and teens who may not have the ability to vocalize and understand their own emotions. Simply existing as an adolescent and teenager was a ride of itself! 

  • In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.
  • In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.
As stated above, depression is different for each individual and age groups. Many elders can experience depression symptoms such as:
  • Memory difficulties or personality changes
  • Physical aches or pain
  • Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems or loss of interest in sex — not caused by a medical condition or medication
  • Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
  • Suicidal thinking or feelings, especially in older men.

                                   


Source: Depression (Major Depressive Disorder) 



DEALING WITH ANXIETY

Similar to depression, anxiety affects people in different ways. Taking stock in how you feel in the moment is the first step in soothing yourself in the moment. Symptoms of anxiety can manifest in many ways. Ranging from physical aliments to mental anguish.  According to MayoClinic.org some of the common signs of anxiety and symptoms can include:
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
Source: Anxiety Disorders

Remember, when you feel these symptoms, you aren't weak.
You're just human.

IMPLEMENTING THE BUILDING BLOCKS FOR A BETTER STATE OF MIND 

While all mental health recommendations and exercises are not made equal, we wanted to provide some practical advice that are relatively low effort but can make a huge impact on you or someone you care for when used routinely.  
Mental illnesses can manifest in many ways and at any time, it's a spectrum of how people are affected. There is no one specific symptom for every individual and in turn, no one size fits all diagnosis or treatment. Some people benefit from implementing journaling, meditation, exercising, therapy, medication and other techniqes. Some exercises won't work and that's okay too! People may find one type of exercise works better than the other. This doesn't mean you are "broken." It just means you haven't found your own unique methods that work best for you yet! We cannot expect immediate changes, but making small changes can drastically affect the mindset and life. One step at a time.

People Need Routines! 

At the start of the pandemic, nearly everything was forced to shutdown and many individuals and families were out of work and children were out of school. Our day to day lives suddenly lacked the structure and became monotonous under quarantine. The brain wanders and during these wandering periods we can begin to overthink. Especially when nothing is confirmed during the pandemic. When structuring your day-to-day one can prioritize what needs to be done. Creating a pattern by forming a decent sleep schedule that allows at least 7 hours of sleep and getting up around the same time each day.           

Go Talk to Your Cuzzin'!

If you have access to a phone or a computer with reliable internet.  Try to call a family member or Zoom a friend. It's a good idea to socialize with people you care for, especially when your mental health may not be the best. It's a privilege to have a friend or family member who can be there for you in your time of need. During isolation and quarantine periods, it's important to remember you are not alone. 

As Natives, we're united and interconnected with one another. Collectively standing together and supporting each other in ways other people cannot relate to on a fundamental level.


Setting and Maintaining Boundaries!

Boundaries are difficult, especially when you have been in the same routine with certain people. If someone continues to repeatedly disrespect your boundaries and trust, it's time to consider the relationship. Being around people who manipulate and continue to break your boundaries is not a person worth keeping.  Checking in with yourself and understanding what is best for you and your comfort level is important in establishing your own personal boundaries. Establishing boundaries does not mean you don't care about the other person; it means you care them and your relationship. 

Creating and Maintaining a Sleep Schedule!

Sleeping is the most important action someone can take for their mental health. Sleeping the minimum of 7 hours isn't just the only thing. The important task when trying to sleep is getting quality sleep. It's best to remove screens at least one hour before bed time and this is due to the blue light screens give off. The blue light in screens suppresses the body's release of melatonin, this is the hormone that makes people feel drowsy. By using your screen up until you fall asleep tricks your brain into thinking it is still daytime, which in turn makes it more difficult to fall asleep. 

Creating a night time routine will greatly increase your sleep quality. It's best to create a nighttime routine that starts around 2 hours before bed. The  body needs time to switch from "Alert" awake mode to "Drowsy" sleep mode.  Showering at night in warm water can benefit the body as warmer temperatures can help the body feel drowsy and relax the muscles, along with reading a book or something that is low effort before falling asleep. If possible, setting the room temperature to around mid-60s can vastly improve the quality of sleep.


            
 
With over 2 years of living under COVID-19 regulations, the future still remains unclear as to when COVID-19 will be contained enough to not affect our daily lives anymore. Since there have been millions of people living under these extreme conditions, there seems to be a general consensus that we have all experienced collective exhaustion, otherwise known as "Pandemic Fatigue." So, while we as humans are meant to feel the full spectrum of our emotions, if you feel you haven't felt like yourself lately, or you've been experiencing more negative emotions than usual, please know you are not alone and you shouldn't judge yourself too harshly. While practicing self care is a life long journey, it's never too late to start because strengthening your relationship to yourself is an invaluable endeavor.

Residential households in the U.S. are now eligible for another order of free at-home tests. Each order now includes 8 rapid antigen COVID-19 tests. Your order of 8 tests will come in 2 separate packages (4 tests in each package), each with its own tracking number. Packages will ship free.

Scan the QR code to be directed to the website.

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