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A Hopeful Future for Native Mental Health and IHS under the Biden- Harris Administration

A New Perspective from Dekibaota, Elleh Driscoll

(Recent University of Iowa Graduate and future participant in the University of North Dakota’s Clinical Psychology PhD program)

Proudly being from the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa, I was excited to start a psychology career out of high school in which I could return to my tribe and assist with mental health crises and care. However, after working at the National Native Center for Behavioral Health, I was exposed to many branches of mental health care, including addiction, behavioral, prevention, and public health. My experiences there have opened my eyes and my path to address not only the research disparities in Native American Psychology efforts, but the importance and barriers within IHS and funding on a national scale to tribal nations in need.

Throughout my time at the center as both an undergraduate and a full time employee, I have been able to not only support Native clinicians and tribal members who share their struggles and successes in their community programs, but I have also been able to be a part of an online community of strength and resilience. As a center, we have witnessed sucide epidemics, the opioid crisis, and the effect of the pandemic on mental health services. Through these crises, I have been grateful to be a part of a team that kept our focus on building collaborations to create effective solutions through culturally relevant and adapted mental health programs for tribes. Some of these programs include talking circles for clinicians, public health campaigns, and grant support groups that are specifically tailored for Native community programs.

While it’s easy for me to put my head down and focus on work within the center and Native activism, there have been many instances in which my coworkers and I were directly impacted by POTUS policies. With the infamous two page memo passed by Trump restricting cultural training, I saw programs like ours being flagged and silenced for providing spaces for communities to share culturally relevant training that acknowledged historical trauma and attempted genocidal acts and their consequences on Native communities.

Entering a new presidency, I myself have been wary of large promises made in campaigns in order to secure voters desperate for change. While it is hard for me personally to take governmental promises seriously, Biden has moved to fulfill some of his efforts to work for Native people and programs that are vital to shifting Euro- mental and behavioral health standards to become more relevant and culturally sensitive for minorities.

Weeks into his presidency, Biden has moved forward with several acts that serve to keep his promises made across Native American communities that rallied to his cause. In the first few months of his presidency, Biden has passed the CARES Act, the HEROES Act, and the American Rescue Act, all which provide direct benefits and support for Native communities struggling from the community effects of COVID-19: “American Rescue Act on March 10th gave $5.4 billion to IHS branches and programs in addition to the $1 billion provided in the CARES Act and more than the $2.1 billion proposed in the House-passed HEROES Act,” (McGuire Woods).

On issues concerning maternal health, health insurance, IHS, telehealth, and behavioral health programs, Biden has already contributed, in part, to many of his original promises. However, his move to open schools across the country is only attainable with greater access to the vaccine. This means that his efforts to fund IHS and tribal efforts in providing COVID-19 care need to have the complete funding promised in order to have centers that not only run efficiently and are properly staffed, but also provide effective and relevant care to patients. Over the next four years, it is vital that this rate does not slow, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. Biden has produced bills that will directly help Native communities that are in a state of emergency; and I am relieved to see an instance where presidential policies will support, rather than suppress, my work for Native communities.

This fall I will be accepting a position within the University of North Dakota’s Clinical Psychology PhD program to continue on my path of expanding Native and multicultural psychology in the academia world. I hope that within this work I can help develop and back up culturally adapted mental health programs and traditional community efforts to combat mental health issues. In time, my future may well be intertwined with IHS to press for more culturally relevant care and training for those going into tribal communities and working with Native Americans tribes across the country. For now, though, I am focusing on the people I can help in the present through my work, activism, and educational efforts and supporting other Native youth who are passionate about doing the same.

It is vital in a world where social media and marketing seem to have taken a hold on reality that we remain present, realistic, and passionately resilient, keeping in mind the lessons that have been passed down to us. While I am wary of power hungry presidents with empty promises, for now, I am allowing myself to have hope.



Elleh Driscoll

The content of this article is the creation of the writer, and the opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of SAMHSA, HHS, or the American Indian & Alaska Native TTC’s, Native Center for Behavioral Health.


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