ND Senators discuss trauma, mental health issues Native Americans face

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BISMARCK, N.D. - Trauma is any a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Native American children experience trauma at a much higher rate than other groups.

Trauma and mental health issues are proven to go hand-in-hand. ​

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is most often associated with soldiers returning home from war, but Native American children face PTSD at about the same rate, according to the Department of Justice.

Senators Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., brought leaders from Indian Country to United Tribes Technical College to hear concerns about trauma and mental health issues Native Americans have to deal with.

"I think it's so important for us to be able to express ourselves and to educate our leadership on the fact that these things are happening in our communities," says Dr. Kathryn Eagle, Elbowoods Memorial Heath Center.

One of the biggest issues is being able to heal young minds damaged by trauma.

"I'm sorry but the kids can't come in with all this stuff on their mind, the neglect, the abuse, the hunger and try to do their math and their reading, so there has to be better solutions to that," says Myrna Warrington, Menominee Tribal Legislature.

"If I'm working with a child in a state of fear, all bets are off in terms of learning, and I can't redirect or retrain their behavior if I can't teach them," says Dr. Tammy DeCoteau, clinical psychologist.

Trauma, especially early childhood trauma, can lead to a variety of issues later in life. Ninety-six percent of adolescent psychiatric inpatients have a history of trauma and incredibly, 98 percent of female offenders have experienced trauma, often interpersonal trauma and domestic violence.

"This is not something that's going to be solved overnight. We have to work together and bring forward solutions and then, I think create as much empowerment as we can at the local level," says Hoeven.

"One of the things that I find in this discussion is hope where we haven't always had hope before, that, yes, we can look at this situation, we can look at what's happening, but we can change outcomes," says Heitkamp.

Solutions include more training for caregivers, increased access to resources for Native children and long-term funding for programs that work.​

DeCoteau says she'd like to create a task force to continue to work to help North Dakota's native youth by educating agencies that interact with them as well as the judicial system.