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A program supporting mental health for students and staff of Tribal schools has been extended for another five years by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE).

The Behavioral Health and Wellness Program was initially introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide virtual counseling and in-person crisis services for schools funded by BIE, which include 183 schools on 64 reservations across Indian Country. The program has been extended another five years via a contract with Tribal Tech, LLC, a native-woman-owned management and technical service provider.

According to the American Indian Health Service,American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people report serious psychological distress, 2.5 times more than the general population, and Native communities experience alcohol, substance use and mental health disorders, suicide, violence, and behavior-related morbidity and mortality disproportionately higher rates than the rest of the U.S. The rural, isolated nature of many reservations and Native communities makes accessing mental health care difficult. 

The BIE’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Program’s virtual services provide a way to overcome barriers to accessing care. Services are tailored to meet the cultural, spiritual, emotional, and social needs of Indigenous communities. Programs include:

  • weekly interactive live streams with mental health experts
  • virtual talking circles where sacred and confidential space is held to share emotions with trusted Indigenous knowledge keepers
  • a library of Indigenous-focused digital stories produced by and for Native peoples to teach building emotional resiliency through cultural practices.  

Through the program, staff at BIE-funded schools have access to training and certification in Youth Mental Health First Aid — an evidence-based, trauma-informed training on assisting youth and young adults experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis. 

“The Interior Department is committed to creating a positive, safe, and culturally-relevant learning environment,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) said in a statement.” I am proud of the hard work by the BIE to ensure that Indigenous youth have the support they need in a culturally-relevant and supportive environment for their physical, mental and emotional well-being,” 

BIE Director Tony Dearman said that the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program said he believes the program will support Native youth in mitigating the impact of generational trauma.

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“Mental wellness is a key component of every student’s success,” BIE Director Tony Dearman said in a statement. “We will focus these resources on the unique issues that face our Indigenous students with a clear emphasis on suicide prevention, crisis services, and behavioral health through an Indigenous lens. We believe this will have a significantly positive impact throughout Indian Country by supporting future leaders, reducing generational trauma and promoting healthier lives.”

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