The shortage of Native American mental health clinicians is both a professional and a personal issue for Mary Owen.
“I’ve struggled with depression myself since high school,” said Owen, a Native American physician in Duluth and associate dean of Native health at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Owen, a member of the Tlingit Nation, grew up in Juneau, Alaska, where “Natives were at the bottom of the pecking order,” she recalled, and the racism she frequently faced made her feel like a second-class citizen. She’s devoted much of her professional career to increasing the number of Native American healthcare professionals of all kinds. Owen said she’s always struggled to find Native therapists — for her own patients in Duluth, and for herself.
While exact numbers are hard to come by, there are likely only 200 to 300 Native American psychologists in the entire country, out of a population of several million people.
“American Indians are the most underserved and underrepresented when it comes to psychologists to potential population ratio,” said Doug McDonald, professor of clinical psychology at the University of North Dakota, and a member of the Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne tribes.
At the same time, there’s a significant need for mental health services in Native communities. According to government estimates, nearly 20 percent of Native American adults have experienced mental illness. The suicide rate for Native teens is more than twice that of white youth. Native people experience serious psychological distress at more than double the rate of the general population.
Read more at MPRNews.org.