Fogarty, NIH involved in Alaska mental health study

July - August, 2009 | Volume 8, Issue 4

Photo: Surrounded by snow, a person in a thick, fur-lined winter coat fishes in the ice
Photo by Mike Affleck, Alaska Division of Tourism

Loss of hunting and fishing grounds may be among
reasons for mental health disparities in the Arctic.

Alaska's two senators are calling on the federal government to do more to address mental health concerns unique to their constituents, and Fogarty, with other components of the NIH, will be involved with the effort.

Dr. James Herrington, director of the International Relations Division, along with staff members Dr. Marya Levintova and Ayesha Shaukat, co-organized an international conference this summer in Anchorage that focused on assessing mental and behavioral health conditions among Native and non-native populations in all countries of the Arctic region and opportunities to address these needs through new and long-term research programs.

Levintova, a member of the federal Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, is preparing a report for the group for release early this fall.

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, introduced legislation recently to have the NIH prepare a national Arctic health science policy to examine why so many Alaskans and residents of other polar countries suffer greater disparities in overall health, and particularly in mental health.

Herrington said poverty in native communities, the loss of hunting and fishing grounds to climate change, isolation and lack of access to health care may contribute to a suicide rate twice the national average.

"Suicide affects our Native communities in epidemic proportions and we must do all that we can to support our clinicians, communities and leaders to address the issue of youth suicide," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, said in a letter to HHS Kathleen Sebelius, requesting funds for an Institute of Medicine study of the subject.

Among the greatest health disparities affecting Arctic people are higher rates of alcohol abuse, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, diabetes, high blood pressure, injury and cancer, according to the Begich bill.

Murkowski asked for funding for a study that would focus on the social, environmental, biomedical and genetic determinants of health that contribute to depressive disorders and alcohol abuse, with the hope it would lead to targeted, personalized treatment.

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