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Minority Women's Health

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Mental health problems and suicide

Rates of mental illness

More studies are needed to learn how many American Indians and Alaska Natives have mental health problems. But in surveys, American Indians and Alaska Natives have high reported rates of feeling anxious or depressed. We also know that suicide rates and substance abuse rates are especially high in this population. Their suicide rate is 1.5 times greater than the national rate, with young people most at risk. American Indians and Alaska Natives also are over-represented among groups at high risk of mental health problems. Visit the mental health section of womenshealth.gov to learn the symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses and how to get help.

Money problems, health problems, and the loss of loved ones are all sources of stress, worry, and sadness. During stressful times, feeling sad, worried, or anxious for a little while is normal. But it's not normal to feel this way a lot of the time. Ongoing feelings of sadness and numbness can be signs of depression. Constant worrying that won't go away can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. These feelings are not just "in your head" or a sign of weakness. Mental health problems, such as anxiety and mood disorders, are real illnesses, just like diabetes or heart disease. They can cause changes in your brain and body chemistry.

Treatment can help people with mental health problems to feel better. But many American Indians and Alaska Natives do not get treatment or drop out of treatment. Keep in mind that getting help is important. Unlike most disabling physical illnesses, mental illness often begins early in life. The sooner a mental health problem is discovered, the better the chance for a full recovery.

Remember: Mental illnesses are real, and treatment can help. If emotional problems are interfering with work, school, relationships, or home life, see a doctor.

If you have thoughts of hurting or killing yourself, get medical help right away. Call 911, 800-SUICIDE, or 800-273-TALK (8255), or check in your phone book for the number of a suicide crisis center.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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