National Center on Indigenous Hawaiian Behavioral Health

History

Introduction

Led by a small group of Native Hawaiians within the University of Hawaii’s Department of Psychiatry, the NHMHRDP was established in 1990 with federal funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The mission: To create a cadre of mental health researchers, whose scientific investigations result in effective, culturally appropriate prevention, intervention and clinical treatment strategies, which improve the mental health status of Native Hawaiians to the highest level possible.

Significance

Hawaii’s indigenous people, called Native Hawaiians or Kanaka maoli, living in 21st century Hawaii, still bear the effects of a 222 year history of devastating loss––a 90 percent death rate from diseases their immune systems had little defense toward, government sactioned denigration and shunning of their native culture, loss of most of their native lands through a Western system of land ownership which they neither understood nor endorsed, and an illegal overthrow and imprisonment of their last reigning sovereign, Queen Lili‘uokalani.

The mental health effects from this tragic history of loss are profound. The E Ola Mau Health Needs Study (1985) was the first study that documented the scope of mental health needs among Native Hawaiians. Based on clinical populations, the study showed that among Hawaii’s major ethnic groups, Kanaka Maoli had higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse, depression, suicide, physical abuse and neglect, incarceration, and disruptive disorders. Further, the E Ola Mau study reported that Native Hawaiians were under-represented in mental health professions and there were no senior researchers of Native Hawaiian ancestry within the University of Hawaii (UH) system.

Major recommendations of the report included increasing the numbers of Native Hawaiians in mental health professions, training Native Hawaiian mental health researchers, conducting research on mental disorders among Native Hawaiians, and designing prevention and intervention strategies which addressed the unique cultural needs of Native Hawaiians.

In 1988-89, Dr. Naleen Andrade designed a Strategic Plan to achieve the overall research goals outlined above with assistance from three sources: a) senior mentors Dr. John McDermott, Jr., Professor and Psychiatry Department Chair, and Dr. Ronald Johnson, Professor and Psychology Department Chair-emeritus; b) consultation from Dr. Spero Manson, Director of the National Center for American Indian and Alaskan Native Mental Health Research, and Dr. James Shore, Professor and Chair of the University of Colorado, Health Sciences Center; and c) technical assistance and consultation from Dr. Delores Parron, Deputy Director of Special Populations at NIMH. The Plan was developed into the grant proposal which established the NHMHRDP. In 1990, Dr. Andrade, became the Principal Investigator and Director of the NHMHRDP.


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