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State prioritizing mental health among Native Veterans 

Photo Credit: CCIA

In honor of November being Native American Heritage Month, The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, the Southern Ute Indian Health Center, the Denver Public Library and the Colorado Department of Human Services came together for a Behavioral Health Roundtable discussion on Monday, Nov. 8 via Zoom. 

The goal of the roundtable was to focus on behavioral health, specifically on the services provided to Native Veterans. The discussion aimed to address the types of culturally responsive care that is necessary for Native Veterans. It was also meant to highlight the gaps and disparities found in American Indian and Alaska Native serving treatment centers.  

Over the last three weeks, the CCIA staff has worked together to celebrate the American Indian and Alaska Native communities throughout the month of November with different roundtable discussions, educational webinars and Indigenous food demonstrations. 

Indigenous communities across Indian Country share many burdens, including economic and political marginalization, education disparities, discrimination and mental health challenges rooted in a long history of trauma. 

Not only do Indigenous communities and their Veterans have to advocate for themselves and their mental health but they are facing key barriers to receive adequate health care and resources such as language barriers, lack of cultural competence and mistrust in providers. 

Despite the need for mental health care, very few who need treatment can access it. In order to care for Indigenous Veterans, providers must first understand that all of the Indigenous populations who they serve have been met with broken promises and treaties creating a mistrust in governmental services and care. The lack of culturally responsive health care providers within rural and isolated locations have impacted access to mental health care as well. 

“There still needs to be a lot more education among treatment providers…being able to find the right resources that are respectful and are willing to understand is difficult for Native Americans, especially Veterans,” Southern Ute Behavioral Health Manager, Mary Young stated.  

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to correctly and respectfully contributing to culturally responsive services. Recruitment, training and retaining culturally competent providers is extremely difficult. The COVID-19 Pandemic has not only imposed greater hardships on Native communities, but it has made providers more aware of the need for crucial primary care, wellness programming and behavioral health care.  

Cultural competency is incredibly important when it comes to your health care needs and understanding your value when it comes to receiving the proper care. There are very few mental and behavioral health programs that can provide culturally, spiritually and traditionally appropriate services, but together, the Southern Ute Health Center and their Behavioral Health Division are making strides to provide this level of care. “The Southern Ute Health Center has mental health and substance use assistance available for any patients eligible to receive services at the health center,” Young stated. “It has taken a whole team and community to build our health care capacity, we all have to be honest and work together to make a change.” 

Your relationship with your mental health provider is especially important and relies heavily on proper communication.  

The last event for the week three celebration include the 4th Annual Native American Market presented by the Colorado Mesa University starting Friday, Nov. 19 —Sunday, Nov. 21. Keep an eye out on the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs’ Facebook page for the week four events. 

“Thank you all for your attendance and thank you for the healing work you do for your state and communities,” Colorado Lieutenant Governor, Dianne Primevera stated in her closing remarks. 

How To Seek Culturally Competent Care 

When meeting with a provider, it is important to ask questions to get a sense of their level of cultural sensitivity. Providers expect and welcome questions from their patients since this helps them better understand what is important in their treatment. Here are some questions to ask: 

  • Have you treated other Indigenous people? 
  • Have you received training in spirituality or traditional practices? 
  • How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment? 
  • Do you have training in trauma-informed care? 

Whether seeking help from a primary care doctor or a mental health professional, you should leave the appointment feeling heard and respected. The amount of respect shown by the provider is the most important basis for an effective treatment relationship. It is essential to see an effort on the part of the provider to: overcome any barriers, understand the past and present experiences of Indigenous peoples, and have respect and empathy towards alternative practices and care. 

Below are crisis lines to help individuals navigate support.  

  • The Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) 
  • The Veterans Crisis Line also provides SMS text messaging service. Text a message to 838255 to receive support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 
  • The SAMHSA National Helpline 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) 
  • Colorado Statewide Crisis Line: 844-493-8255 
  • New Mexico Statewide Crisis Line: 855-662-7474 
  • Axis Health System Crisis Line: 970-247-5245
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