Native Americans historically have benefited from close tribal social support. While strained and at times fragmented, this can be a great source of strength and prevention. There needs to be an increased community awareness and access to hotlines or other help resources to buttress the tribal social support. Culturally sensitive approaches to prevention and treatment include talking circles, smudging, storytelling, traditional healers, the medicine person, use of herbal remedies, and traditional ceremonies (such as the sweat lodge). For example, members of the tribes of First Nations in Canada have benefited from outreach programs to Native American youth that use native-focused comic books with native heroes and legends promoting mental health and general physical health messages.7,8 Although the Native American population presents particular challenges, it has innate strengths that can be used to prevent the rising tide of Native American youth suicide and violence.
Domestic violence among South Asians: an example of a community response
Domestic violence is a spectrum of abuse that includes physical, psychological, economic, and sexual harm with the intent to control another person’s behavior. It is a persistent pattern of behavior that can occur at any point during the life cycle. Domestic violence is perpetrated all over the world—and 90% to 95% of the violence is committed by men against women.
In the United States, more than 3 million women are victims of physical abuse each year. No large studies have sampled the prevalence of partner abuse among Asian Americans in the United States. However, Asians made up only 17.5% of the population in Santa Clara County, California, but they accounted for 35% of women killed in domestic violence–related deaths between 1994 and 1997.
Throughout the United States, Asian Americans have responded to domestic abuse in their own communities by establishing various programs and organizations for survivors of domestic violence. Apna Ghar (Our Home), established in 1990, is the longest-running shelter for South Asian battered women in the Midwest. This shelter helps battered women become safe and self-sufficient. It also aims to increase community awareness about domestic violence by targeting social change through education and outreach. It is the first shelter and social service agency in the nation founded specifically to provide culturally appropriate services for victims of domestic violence from the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. Over the years, expertise and services have expanded to include immigrant women from regions such as the Middle East and other parts of Asia. Apna Ghar has served more than 5200 women and children in the past 17 years.
Current programs and services at Apna Ghar include a 24-hour crisis line, a shelter staffed around the clock, counseling services, legal advocacy, children’s advocacy, transitional housing, supervised child visitation, an economic empowerment program, outreach programs, and 40 hours of domestic violence training. The accomplishments are numerous, and every year a significant number of community organizations join Apna Ghar in the fight against domestic violence.
Violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons
The true prevalence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) hate crimes is difficult to determine. The main sources of information come from the Hate Crime Statistics Reports and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP) annual reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
In 2006, there were 1415 hate crime offenses based on sexual orientation that involved 1472 victims; this category comprised 15.5% of all reported hate crimes (Figure 2).9 Although more than 12,000 agencies representing 85% of the population participated in this survey, hate crimes based on sexual orientation were reported by only 2000 agencies. The NCAVP report for the same year states that there were 1393 incidents of hate crime based on sexual orientation that affected 1672 victims.10
These statistics were based on reporting from only 12 agencies representing 27% of the population. However, these statistics included 11 homicides, whereas there were no homicides reported by the FBI, and 15% of the crimes in the NCAVP report were against transgender individuals, a category which was not included in the FBI report.
Interestingly, a special report from the Bureau of Justice, based on bi-annual interviews of 77,600 people from 2000 through 2003 indicates that the number of LGBT hate crimes and victims was more in the range of 30,000 annually.11 This large discrepancy may be due to the reluctance of the LGBT population to report hate crimes or the reluctance of law enforcement agencies to classify these crimes as hate crimes.
Adolescents and young adults may be at particular risk for the mental health consequences of anti-gay harassment and violence. Some studies indicate that being a victim of anti-gay violence was associated with low self-esteem and a 2-fold increase in suicidal ideation. A survey in California of middle and high school students revealed that victims of sexual orientation bias–related incidents had the highest rates of negative behaviors, including lower grades and drug and alcohol(Drug information on alcohol) use. Larger studies of the LGBT population have also shown hate crime victimization to be associated with depression, anxiety, distress, anger, less belief in the benevolence of others, greater perceived vulnerability, and lower self-mastery.
What can be done? First, for the victim, the psychiatrist must provide an environment that respects the trauma that has been inflicted and provides safety for the healing that must occur. The victim may need specific advice to help find a safe haven in the community (Table).
Beyond the treatment of the individual patient, psychiatrists should be advocating for legislation that better protects the rights of all citizens. Neither sexual orientation nor gender identity is included in hate crime laws in 18 states. On the federal level, although the Matthew Shepard Act, which included both sexual orientation and gender identity in its definition of hate crimes, was passed by Congress in 2007, the bill was later vetoed by President Bush.
Better epidemiological studies are needed to accurately determine the prevalence of anti-LGBT violence. In addition, educational programs are needed for law enforcement personnel and mental health care providers. A better understanding of the mental health sequelae of anti-LGBT violence will allow for improved evidence-based treatment.
The disadvantaged racial/ethnic and sexual orientation minorities and women have disproportionately experienced suicide and homicide in the United States. The complex history of each group, its language, attitudes, values, and behaviors, which interact with those of the majority culture, produce unique patterns of violence. Regardless of a victim’s background, a psychiatric approach that begins with an assessment of the cultural identity of the victim gives each victim the best chance of becoming a survivor. This approach recognizes the assets available in the victim’s community of support and provides a safe haven for learning adaptive and proactive behaviors. Finally, psychiatrists are encouraged to advocate for broader social changes that will prevent future victimization and provide greater opportunities for recovery.