New research published in the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology has exposed the troubling connection between the underutilization of mental health services among American Indians and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations and experiences of racism in the healthcare system.
The study, conducted by researchers Tracy J. Stewart and Vivian M. Gonzalez, has identified historical trauma and racial discrimination as critical factors contributing to this concerning phenomenon fueled by historical trauma. The AIAN population experiences higher rates of social injustices and adverse mental health outcomes than other ethnic groups in the United States. Despite the urgent need for mental health care, members of this community often avoid seeking professional help.
According to Stewart and Gonzalez, a deep-rooted distrust of the healthcare system (HCS) lies at the heart of this issue. In addition, the authors argue that the violent colonization, forced removal from ancestral lands, broken treaties, and forced assimilation through tactics such as boarding schools and adopting out Native children to non-AIAN families contribute to this lingering mistrust.
The researchers hypothesized that higher levels of perceived historical trauma or racial discrimination would lead to a lower inclination to seek mental health care among the Native population. They also proposed that this relationship is mediated by distrust of healthcare systems.
Indeed, frequent thoughts of historical loss were indirectly associated with lower help-seeking behavior through its relationship with HLAS and distrust towards HCS. Individuals who had more thoughts of historical loss were likely to have more distress related to such thoughts and were likely to have a higher suspicion of healthcare systems. Ultimately, such high distrust of health systems was associated with lower help-seeking behavior.
A similar relationship was found between perceived racism and mental health help-seeking behaviors.
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