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The Bureau of Indian Education is taking steps to support the mental health of students and staff at schools funded by the bureau with a new 24/7 hotline. 

The call line is part of the BIE Behavioral Health and Wellness Program, which provides bureau-funded schools and programs with Indigenous-focused, evidence-based and trauma-informed behavioral health and wellness support. The Program’s counseling team is primarily staffed with Indigenous counselors who have experience serving Native communities.

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The Program, which received additional funding last year, is a touchpoint for care as mental health needs among Native youth rise.

Native Americans face the highest rates of depression and anxiety, according to the Indian Health Services. As well, suicide rates among Indigenous youth ages 10-24 are the highest of all racial groups. While suicide rates increased overall by 5% from 2018-2021, suicide rates among Native youth increased by 33.7%. 

 Despite these high rates, mental health interventions in Native communities are less frequent than in other communities due to a culmination of systemic shortcomings and a lack of historical lack of resources dedicated to culturally relevant care. 

 Generational trauma, colonialism, and persistent historical inequities have led Native communities to experience precursors to mental health issues at higher rates than other groups, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, substance misuse, mental illness, parental separation or divorce, incarceration, and poverty.

“BIE schools play a critical role in student’s lives that extends beyond the classroom and into their communities and the Tribal nations that they are part of,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said in a statement. “The mental health and wellness services provided through this program will also extend beyond the classroom, creating healthier and more resilient communities.”

Students and staff who call 1-844-ASK-BHWP (1-844-275-2497) will be connected with trained professionals who can provide immediate individual attention. The call line offers 24/7 crisis support and scheduled counseling sessions.

Once connected to the call line, callers will have two options to select from for behavioral health support. Option 1 will connect callers to 24/7 immediate individual crisis support. Option 2 will connect callers with information on non-crisis virtual counseling services.

The Program’s virtual counseling model utilizes a school-based, short-term and solution-focused approach to address student and staff behavioral health concerns.  

The BIE program will also offer trauma-informed on-site and virtual crisis support to students and staff at bureau-funded schools and programs in 2024. Crisis support aims to lessen the intensity, duration, and presence of a crisis that is typically overwhelming while showing respect and honor for local Tribes’ practices and traditions.

Staff available for on-site crisis support services are trained in trauma and evidence-based intervention models, including psychological first aid, critical incident stress management, individual and group stabilization, debriefing and coping skills.

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
About The Author
Author: Elyse WildEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Elyse Wild is senior editor for Native News Online and Tribal Business News.