Montana is home to federally-recognized tribes on seven reservations, one state-recognized Tribe, and a large urban Indian population. In a 2014 report on the health of Montanans, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services documented severe health disparities among American Indians living in Montana. The report found that American Indian people in Montana die at a median age of 50 years (more than 20 years earlier than non-Indian Montanans); death rates for specific illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, injuries, and suicide, were all found to be substantially higher as well.
Mental illness and drug and alcohol use are both common and serious problems in Montana. “Behavioral Health” is a term that is commonly used to describe this spectrum of illnesses and the field of healthcare that addresses them. In surveys of health needs carried out by Montana’s rural hospitals, both hospitals and community members ranked these issues among the most important health challenges in their communities. Health statistics provide a partial picture of the scope of these problems. Among Montana adults, 20.4 percent report having been diagnosed with depression; nearly 19 percent report binge drinking within the past 30 days; almost 25 percent report illicit drug use within the past 30 days; and Montana is consistently ranked in the top 10 states in terms of risk factors for alcohol use among 18 to 25-year-olds. Among Montana youth, more than 26 percent report symptoms consistent with depression, and 23.5 percent of high school students report binge drinking within the past month. A recent national survey examined the prevalence of behavioral health problems and corresponding access, or lack thereof, to services for treatment in each U.S. state: Montana ranked 44th worst overall, and 49th for youth.
Many communities, particularly in rural Montana, have limited access to certain health services, and healthcare workforce shortages and budget shortfalls are widespread. The Montana Healthcare Foundation is dedicated to improving the health status of Montanans and to increasing the quality and accessibility of health services for people across the state. Health disparities – defined as the higher rates of illness experienced by certain populations, including socially or economically disadvantaged families, racial and ethnic minorities, children, and older adults – are a particular focus of this portfolio.