Around the Institute

Center for Native American Youth Co-Hosts Congressional Briefing for National Mental Health Awareness Month

May 8, 2014

(Photo Credit: Steve Johnson)

In observation of National Health Awareness Month, Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and the Congressional Native American Caucus, along with the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) at the Aspen Institute, co-hosted a panel event today on mental health in Indian Country, with a special focus on Native American youth. The panel was designed to raise awareness of mental health challenges experienced by young people in Indian Country and to recognize solutions making a difference and preventing suicide. Featured panelists included myself and the following guests:

There are currently more than 2.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) under the age of 24 living in the United States. These youth make up approximately 42 percent of the AI/AN population, and they are a vital and vibrant part of their tribal nations. However, Native American youth also face significant challenges to their development and well-being. 

Tribal and urban Indian communities continue to experience historical trauma and chronic underfunding of federal obligations, which have resulted in high rates of poverty, high-school dropouts, violence, and substance and drug abuse. Among youth in the 15 to 24 age group, suicide is the second leading cause of death, and in some communities suicide rates are 10 times the national average. To help address these issues, CNAY works with the Indian Health Service, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and tribal organizations to raise the national profile of Native youth and tribes regarding important issues like mental health. Read CNAY’s “Voices of Native Youth Volume III,” which summarizes conversations with youth through nearly 100 roundtable events, to learn more about youth priorities.  

CNAY invites others to join the conversation and spread the word about National Mental Health Awareness Month on Twitter by following CNAY at @Center4Native. Positive stories that highlight the importance of mental health in Indian Country will also be collected on Facebook and Twitter using the official Mental Health Awareness Month hashtag #mhm2014. 

We want to hear your story on the importance of mental health. Share it in #sixwords in the comments section, below.

Erin Bailey is executive director of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute.