In 1955 the Indian Health Service (IHS) was created to ensure efficient health care of Native Americans. It was and still is believed that the United States has an obligation to care for the health needs of Native Americans because of their misplacement, harsh treatment, and disruption of their culture. The acts that were committed against Native Americans by colonist and later the United States, left many Native American tribes in vulnerable and weak state. This weakened state was thought to be aided by the IHS (Grandbois, 2005). However, the goals of the IHS have not been met and many disparities have befallen Native Americans. Of all the disparities that Native Americans face mental health care maybe the greatest. The article “Stigma of Mental Illnesses Among American Indian and Alaska Native Nations: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” addresses these concerns in detail and what must be done to help improve the quality of life among Native Americans (Grandbois, 2005).
The article focuses on some of the things that have led to the negative health factors of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN), stigma that comes from mental illness, negative domains that effect AIAN lifestyles, and what must be done to improve AIAN health conditions (Grandbois, 2005).
When colonist came to America they did more than just relocate AIAN’s. They also brought several diseases, such as cholera, malaria, small pox, & the bubonic plague (Grandbois, 2005). Prior to the colonists coming to America, Native Americans had experienced few serious diseases and were very susceptible to diseases that colonists carried since Native Americans had never encountered these diseases. Due to these diseases, relocation and small conflicts over half of the Native Americans in the United States died in the 19th century (by comparison to before colonists had arrived) (Grandbois, 2005).
After the rights and culture of AIAN’s were violated they received many promises and treaties that were thought to help their people. However, the majority of these promises were broken and some were not meant to help them at all. These broken promises have caused a sense of mistrust between natives and the government. Lack of trust, as well of a lack of cultural understanding on the western side, has caused issues in diagnosing, understanding symptoms and treating natives much more difficult (Grandbois, 2005).
Various tribes have different view points on mental illnesses. Before colonists came to America, the natives that were already residing there did not have any understand of a mental illness. AIAN’s viewed all illnesses as bodily illnesses (Grandbois, 2005). This means that the concept and stigma that exists in AIAN cultures came originated from western influence. There are two processes that occurred within tribes that affected the way that these tribes viewed mental illnesses and the stigma that comes with the illness. Deculturation is the process in which a group loses their original culture and reculturation of adapting the culture of the majority (Levy & Shiraev, 2009).
The stigma that results from a mental illness is not only in AIAN cultures, stigmas can cause an individual to avoid treatment which can prolong and worsen an illness. Stigma about mental illness can cross-cultures and can be considered etic because it is not designated to a particular culture (Levy & Shiraev, 2009). It may also be considered emic because not all tribes have adapted the same view of mental illnesses and different stigmas may be applied depending on the illness (Levy & Shiraev, 2009). The amount of stigma that a tribe ascribes to mental illnesses normally correlates to the amount of deculturation and reculturation that occurs within the tribe. The higher deculturation and reculturation the higher the stigma and the more assimilated these tribes have become to the dominant culture (Levy & Shiraev, 2009) (Grandbois, 2005).