A positive youth development perspective on mental distress among American Indian/Alaska native youth

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Positive youth development approaches with American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth have been particularly successful and promising. Utilizing a survey with 3,736 AI/AN students, we investigated the associations between risk and protective factors and significant mental distress of AI/AN youth. The protective factors were studied within the positive youth development framework, which includes positive developmental assets reflecting aspects of the Circle of Courage, a prior framework embodying core indigenous values for youth development and education to support youth at risk. Risk factors in the study included having experienced trauma, being bullied by peers, substance use, and skipping school; protective factors were social supports, out-of-school-time activity participation, healthy eating, and healthy sleeping behaviors. Through logistic regressions, we found that risk factors were associated with more mental distress, consistent with prior research. However, students who participated in out-of-school-time activities at least three times a week, were sleeping at least eight hours daily, and those reporting social supports, particularly family/community support and sense of empowerment, had lower likelihood of mental distress. In fact, the presence of these protective factors reduced the associations of risk factors and risky behaviors with mental distress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalAmerican Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was completed with the support of the Minnesota Youth Development Group

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. All Rights Reserved.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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