The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Promoting Psychological Well-Being Among American Indian and Alaska Native Women: The Role of Communal Mastery and Historical Loss Awareness

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 6:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 002A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Ciwang Teyra, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Cynthia Pearson, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Tessa Evans-Campbell, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Patricia Whitefoot, MA, Indian Education Director, Toppenish School District, Toppenish, WA
Purpose: American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations have experienced generations of devastating colonial oppression, influencing their psychological well-being. Numerous studies of AIAN populations focus on pathological outcomes, overlooking important culturally-responsive components for strength-based interventions. There is a need to pay more attention to resilience outcomes for AIAN populations. The current study explores health-promotion factors which can improve AIANs’ psychological well-being. Previous research finds communal mastery produced more benefits for populations who share a sense of collectivist culture (e.g., AIANs). Communal mastery is defined as the belief people are capable of overcoming stressful circumstances through interconnectedness with group members. Previous studies also suggest that acknowledging historical losses is a significant step towards healing from colonial oppression for AIAN populations. Theories of grief and loss indicate that acknowledging loss can facilitate grieving process, allowing an opportunity for people to appropriately mourn the losses that can promote healing towards recovery and well-being. This study examines communal mastery and whether historical loss awareness serves as mechanism to enhance psychological well-being among AIAN populations.

Methods: The study used the 2011 cross-sectional community needs assessment survey among 146 AIAN rural young women (15-35 years). Communal mastery was measured by Hobfoll et al.’s Communal Mastery Scale (10 items; α=0.86). Psychological well-being was measured by Ryff Scales of Psychological Well-Being (42 items; α=0.87), which designed to measure six components: autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relationships, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. Awareness about historical loss was measured by Whitbeck et al.’s Historical Loss Scale (12 items; α=0.94), which measures frequency of thoughts about historical losses (e.g., loss of land, language and spiritual practices). We first conducted bivariate analyses to examine the associations between communal mastery, awareness about historical loss and psychological well-being. Meeting the criteria for a mediation analysis, we used a single mediation method to test the hypothesized causal sequence that awareness about historical loss may lead to a significant improvement in psychological well-being. The Sobel-test was used to assess the significance of the mediation effect.

Results: The results indicated that both greater communal mastery and more awareness about historical loss were associated with higher psychological well-being scores (t=3.73, p<0.01; t=4.3, p<0.01, respectively). Additionally, greater sense of communal mastery was associated with awareness about historical losses more often (t=3.4, p<0.01). This suggested that a strong connection with the tribal community may indicate greater knowledge and understanding about the historical context of community. In the mediation analysis, results of the Sobel-test suggested that the positive influence of communal mastery on psychological well-being was partially mediated by thinking about historical loss, and the mediated effect was significant (z=2.21, p<0.05). The results indicated that awareness about historical loss, as a health-promotion mechanism, can enhance the effect of communal mastery on psychological well-being.

Conclusions and Implications: To promote AIAN women’s psychological well-being, findings suggest that strength-based community programs may benefit from interventions that improve communal mastery skills and promote discussions and awareness of historical loss.