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Understanding Depression and Anxiety in American Indian Populations with a Mobile App

Understanding Depression and Anxiety in American Indian Populations with a Mobile App

Published: Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Lancer Stephens, Ph.D. (Wichita/Creek), an associate dean for sovereignty, equity, diversity, and inclusion and associate professor for the Hudson College of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, is a co-investigator on the EASE study. He is assisting with recruitment of American Indian participants in Oklahoma to ensure that the study can show whether EASE is helpful for American Indians. Of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States, 38 are present in Oklahoma.

The newly developed Easing Anxiety Sensitivity for Everyone (EASE) app was designed to educate people about anxiety and depression, help them monitor symptoms, and give them strategies to manage their symptoms. The study will determine whether the app can help reduce a user’s symptoms and improve their quality of life. Researchers will also assess how different stressors affect people from various racial and ethnic groups. The study will involve 800 participants: 200 Black, 200 Latinx, 200 American Indian, and 200 non-Latino White people. Although the study is currently recruiting participants in the investigators’ home states of Oklahoma and Texas, the team hopes the study will expand to other states.

The unique stressors of American Indian populations, including stressors based on historical experience, could influence those groups’ experiences with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. “Massive death from previously unknown diseases brought by settlers, theft of land, boarding schools, the Indian Removal Act and forced assimilation of American Indians to White culture, and continued racism have contributed to a loss of identity that still impacts our Tribal Nations today,” Stephens said.

During the pandemic, COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths among American Indians in Oklahoma have been comparable to those for other Oklahomans, Stephens acknowledged. However, in other areas of the country, the disease burden was much higher for American Indians than for other groups.

American Indians are not the only people whose mental health has suffered during the pandemic. Early in 2021, more than 40% of U.S. adults had symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder. The EASE app study will uncover how anxiety sensitivity manifests itself in Black, Latinx, American Indian, and non-Latino White populations and help researchers understand how people in these groups respond to different behavioral strategies.