More than 100k Indigenous people across America are facing a mental health desert

According to a new report from GoodRx, more than 113,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) live in 492 counties that lack mental health providers.

The report said that more than 90% of these areas are in rural areas of the US, where healthcare resources are already limited.

“In fact, there is less than one psychiatrist or psychologist for every 30,000 people living in these countries,” said Amanda Nguyen, a health economist at GoodRx.

Nguyen noted that mental health access is lacking in the South Central, Midwest and Alaska regions of the US: These regions have the highest number of mental health care deserts, including Texas (30 mental health desert counties), Kansas (13), Oklahoma (30), and Oklahoma (1). 8), Nebraska (8), and Alaska (7) have the highest number of mental health deserts. Besides Alaska (11,171), South Dakota (14,650) has the highest number of AI/AN residents living in the mental health desert.

“It is important to note our analysis focused on psychiatrists and psychologists, given their ability to diagnose mental health disorders and prescribe medications,” he added. “This ignores the important mental health care and support that physicians, social workers, primary care physicians, and traditional healers can also provide to these communities.”

The report also found that poor broadband access limits access to telehealth services, which can help mental health resources.

“In general, rural communities are likely to lack access to traditional healthcare infrastructure as well as telehealth, which has grown in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially mental health,” Nguyen said. for providers.”

“Living in a rural area with limited broadband Internet access presents a challenge in accessing mental health care because broadband is often necessary to access care via video or online calls.”

She said the study found that counties with higher populations of AI/AN residents had a lower percentage of homes with broadband of any kind. For example, most counties (94%) with 50% or more AI/AN residents – such as Apache County in Arizona – have broadband access below the national average.

“The Internet is a valuable resource for those seeking mental health guidance and support, and is often the fastest,” Nguyen said. “Without broadband access, mental health care is harder to obtain and people may no longer be able to receive services from their psychiatrist or psychologist if those providers have switched to providing online-only care.”

Although most Indian Health Service (IHS) clinics and hospitals provide free services to tribe members and are located on reservations, 87% of those who identify as AI/AN are from tribal areas, according to US Census data. live outside.

“This means that it is not always possible for all Native American/Alaska Native individuals to obtain accessible, affordable, high-quality, or culturally competent mental health care that meets their needs , which in turn may lead them to drop out of care altogether,” she said. ,

Nguyen hopes this study will raise awareness of the mental health disparities faced by the AI/AN community and lead to more solutions to aid access to mental health care.

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