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Center Serves Children with Mental Health Disorders

© Indian Country Today March 14, 2006. All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission from Indian Country Today

By Staff Reports
Indian Country Today

Photo courtesy Matt Taylor -- Teachers and counselors on the Rocky Boy's Reservation worked alongside University of Montana faculty to model a unique program addressing childhood traumatic stress for the Montana Center for the Investigation and Treatment of Childhood Trauma.

MISSOULA, Mont. - The University of Montana received a grant in 2003 to establish the Montana Center for the Investigation and Treatment of Childhood Trauma. The center serves children experiencing symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in Indian country.

The competitive grant was awarded by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency. Administered by UM's Division of Educational Research and Service, the center provides cognitive behavioral intervention for trauma in schools.

"Depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms are common mental health disorders in the United States," said Rick van den Pol, the center's principal investigator. "According to the American Psychological Association, 8 percent of the population suffers from PTSD at least once in their life, and 10 percent or more experience depression."

Data concerning American Indian populations is sparse, he said, but some research indicates that as many as 22 percent may suffer from PTSD.

"Native Americans may experience symptoms linked to intergenerational trauma, stemming largely from years of oppression and detrimental government policies," said center Director Darrel Stolle. "When working with Native American children who have been exposed to violence, it is essential to understand how the current trauma is impacted by historical events."

Aaron Morsette is the center's trauma intervention specialist from Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, home to Montana's Chippewa Cree tribe. He said, "In every Native American community where we have worked, tribal members have endorsed the relevance and value of this project in addressing some of the mental health needs of their children."

Van den Pol said, "Since we first started this project in Rocky Boy, we have seen significant growth. In fact, we have had the honor of receiving invitations from many sovereign Indian nations, including the Blackfeet tribe, the Leech Lake tribe in Minnesota, the Oglala people on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of the Salish and Kootenai on the Flathead."

CBITS was developed in Los Angeles and used with Hispanic and Asian children. In Indian country, CBITS initially was delivered in the fall 2004 to children on the Rocky Boy's reservation. Morsette recently completed data analysis from the CBITS delivery. Results indicate that 14 percent of children who participated in the initial survey demonstrated significant levels of depression and post-traumatic symptoms.

Following completion of the CBITS program, 75 percent of children reported they were better able to concentrate and no longer felt sad. The remaining 25 percent who didn't show significant improvement on the survey reported to counselors that they felt better.

"Community and school violence is quite common in our society and can have long-term emotional impacts on children and adults," van den Pol said. "Fortunately, in our demonstration sites, children who participated in CBITS improved."

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