I received this article in my Psych Central newsletter. Of course I am drawn to the topic of mental illness & poverty because I happen to be mentally ill & living in poverty; a relative poverty since I happen to have a home, a car, & food to eat – for which I am very grateful. Also, an income however meager, because for a while I had no source of income & it was a really bad time.
I am currently on SSDI after years of professional work, so I do a bit better than others in the same boat. It’s only half what I was making when working, & I was in a classically underpaid, overworked profession (which is how I ended up driven out of mine mind, but that’s not what this is about), so I am still living under the poverty line for the U.S. But thankfully, I moved home with my father, who is unemployed thanks to companies who see dollar signs in the low standards of other countries, & hold more loyalty to their stockholders than to their employees. But again, that’s not what this is about.
What this is about is the article linked above, “The Vicious Cycle of Poverty and Mental Health”.
It discusses research looking into the interplay of poverty & mental illness. Sadly, the issues is like the chicken & the egg on steroids. Which came first? Hard to say. How can we fix it? Hard to say.
Poverty creates or exacerbates mental illness because of the trauma & stressors endured by people who are not just poor, but live in poor neighborhoods which typically have higher rates of crime & pollution.
Some years ago I read an article on research into poverty & PTSD, & there were people in these high violence neighborhoods who had trauma issues just from the constant exposure of their daily lives. Nothing had to directly happen to them; they were surrounded.
Exercise is a great benefit to anyone, but especially to those with mental illness. For people who live in these typical poor neighborhoods it can be difficult to get out to even go for a walk. You feel threatened, not just for yourself going out, but also for leaving your home unattended.
I was broken into once. They weren’t able to actually get into the house before my pet rabbit scared them away (good bunny!), so nothing was taken, but I still felt violated & very afraid. It didn’t help that my backdoor had been busted in & the rental company wasn’t in that big of a hurry to get it repaired. I had to produce a police report before they would come out (which I had to pay for btw).
I read another research report recently, can’t remember the title or where I saw it, but they found depressed single mothers & divided them into three categories: women who received housing vouchers & housing in more affluent areas, women who received housing vouchers but stayed in their low-income neighborhood, & those who received advice but not assistance. Sorry, I’m sketchy on the details.
The women who were able to move their families out of the low-income neighborhoods showed the greatest improvement. Not only with their depression, but with their physical health as well because these women spent more time outdoors walking & getting exercise. It was a very interesting article. Maybe I will find it again.
What the title article here also addresses is the issue of falling into poverty after developing mental health issues. Which is also a very real concern.
Many people, like me, were going along doing fine until WHAM! something happened & they lost the ability to function as they had been. I worked for years after my big breakdown (I was initially diagnosed years ago, but managed to go to college & graduate school, then work in my field), but not only could I no longer handle the pressures of my field, but I couldn’t stay at any job anywhere.
Eventually I could no longer get hired anywhere. Even fast food. There times are especially tough for job seekers, & employers have their pick of the desperate litter. Not only do a I have a sketchy job history, but I also have a Master’s degree which is apparently not something Hardee’s is looking for in a cashier, bless ‘em.
So, after one hospitalization & two stays in a residential treatment facility a psychiatrist recommended I apply for disability. I think it was mostly because they wanted some hope of getting paid eventually. No job = no money = no insurance.
But the caveat with this situation is indigence & Medicare. If you have no insurance or you have Medicare, & you can not afford to private pay, your options are very limited, if you even have options where you live. If you do, most likely your options will be limited to community mental health centers that are overburdened & under-funded.
I am just starting back to my local MHC where my only therapy as a Medicare patient will be a one hour group session once a Month. That’s it. Because they only have one LCSW approved for payment by Medicare for therapy services. And they are the only option in this country, not just for Medicare but for anyone.
Being poor & mentally ill means being unable to access the best services to get better & get back to where you were, or wherever it is you want to be. I want to go back to work, & am hoping in the next year to be stable enough to be able to get and maintain a regular part-time job. I have some home gigs now that I can work as my symptoms allow, but that isn’t much. Sometimes even they are too much.
It’s a sad, sad situation. You want to be more, but it feels like you’re underwater & the world is holding you down. Every time you struggle up & break the surface, there’s a wave set to choke you when you try to catch your breath. You think a pair of floaties would be helpful, but all you have to choose from are the old ones with holes poked in them. And of course, you have all the people swimming around who were given solid floaties, & think it’s funny to see you held under, telling you it’s your fault you can’t swim.
It’s not impossible to make things better, but it sure seems harder than it has to be.
Life’s a bitch. Be bitchier.