Behavioral Health
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Dear County Executive, how will you support mental and behavioral health data collection?

September 13, 2022
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By: Cynthia Connolly  

Dear County Executive,  

Native Americans in Cuyahoga County deserve better data collection and reporting on mental and behavioral health needs. Right now, 71 percent of Native Americans live in urban settings. We live in all 88 Ohio counties, and while we count for a small share of the population relative to other groups, we are real people and part of vibrant communities.

 Native Americans in Cuyahoga County deserve better data collection and reporting on mental and behavioral health needs.

From the mid-1950s to the 1970s, Cleveland was one of nine target cities for the federal government’s Urban Relocation Program. This was a federal policy that aimed to lessen the government’s responsibility to uphold obligations to Native American people by integrating them into mainstream society. Cleveland was selected due to its distance from reservations—a strategy used to promote rapid assimilation and the cultural genocide of our people. Because of the Relocation era, Ohio has a significant Native American community. It is also the home to citizens of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and other tribal nations that have been here for millennia.  

When asked about basic mental and behavioral health statistics about Native Americans, it’s easy to point to national data:

  • The S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2019 that suicide was the second leading cause of death for Native Americans between the ages of 10 and 34.
  • For Native teens, suicide rates were over double that of white
  • The National Institute on Mental Health also found that Native Americans have the highest reported suicide rates for both men and women than any other race.
  • SAMHSA reported nearly one-fifth of Native Americans experienced mental illness in the last
  • The United States Department of Justice reported that one in three Native American women will be raped—undoubtedly creating a vicious cycle of mental and behavioral health issues.I can also point to some statewide data: Native Americans in Ohio have the second highest poverty rate than any other race at 25.9 percent. That’s actually higher than the national average of 23 percent.
 Easily accessible data for Native Americans in this County is not parsed out in meaningful ways to be helpful for analysis, if it’s parsed out at all.

But if you asked about County-level mental and behavioral health statistics on the Native community, the answers are harder to come by. Easily accessible data for Native Americans in this County is not parsed out in meaningful ways to be helpful for analysis, if it’s parsed out at all. As it stands, it is unnecessarily difficult to identify and track our needs locally.  

Native Americans are relentlessly lumped into “Other,” and this practice has harmful consequences. Access to, and availability of local data allows researchers, policymakers, and leadership – like the County Executive – the chance to identify disparities in health, education, and more. Without it, leadership cannot effectively find solutions; or worse, remain oblivious to the severity of our issues. And frankly, the latter tends to be the most common outcome.

 It's time to decolonize our data, and better support the Indigenous people of Cuyahoga County.

My work with the Lake Erie Native American Council shows me that there is a dire, and unmet need for culturally competent mental and behavioral health services in Cuyahoga County. I urge our new County Executive to work with health leaders and support the development of a certified Urban Indian Health Provider in Cuyahoga County through the Indian Health Service. An Urban clinic would immediately improve access to care for the Native community. It will also provide a clear avenue for reliable data collection and reporting. We have some of the top health institutions in the world in our own backyard. This is not only possible… but necessary.  

It's time to decolonize our data, and better support the Indigenous people of Cuyahoga County.  

Sincerely,Cynthia Connolly, Executive Board Member

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