Serious Mental Illness in Native Americans

Race, genetics and health are all interrelated and very important. In class this week we learned that the topic of race is tricky. There are some anthropologists who do not believe there is such a thing as biological race, and there are drug companies that are marketing for a specific race. In the 1920s there were craniometrists who said that African Americans were a different species from the Caucasians. They were trying to trick people into thinking that Caucasians are a better race. We know today that the scientists falsified evidence and everyone is equal. A more recent development in race and health is racialized medicine. One of the first medicines was BiDill. It claims to help lower blood pressure. It markets to African American males. The drug company’s explanation is that the test subjects in the study who responded best were the African American males. That does not make it a valid decision or study. Many people don’t find it to be creditable. This drug is a big topic of debate.

Race and genetics work together when it comes to genetic mutations. In parts of Africa sickle cell anemia can be found. This gene mutation has occurred to help people survive malaria. Malaria is a disease that can be very deadly and the gene that creates sickle cell anemia helps fight off the disease and makes it less deadly. Race ties into this because people who have the sickle cell gene are from the same part of the world, West Africa. Their race would be considered West African and they were have a greater chance of getting sickle cell anemia. Health isn’t purely determined by race, it is determined by genetics and socio-cultural factors.

The chart connected to this post shows the percentage of people with serious mental illnesses in the United States from 2012. A serious mental illness is a mental illness that impairs basic functioning in everyday tasks, and substantially limits life activities. The people with the highest percentage of SMI recorded were Native Americans and Alaskan natives. I believe this is prevalent because Native Americans don’t have good health care. They don’t have the resources to diagnose or receive treatment for their illnesses. Also historically speaking Native Americans don’t have mental illnesses in their culture. They have spirits and medicine men. It could not be acceptable to receive help for a mental illness in their community.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Serious Mental Illness (SMI) Among Adults.” National Institute of Mental Health. (accessed July 11, 2014).

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