Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Poverty and Mental Health

I've started to think that mental health is a problem for the wealthy.

I don't mean to say that it's a first world problem which doesn't matter for anybody else -- I think just the opposite.  The National Day Without Stigma was this past week, and as always, it just reminded me of how prevalent mental illness is in the world.

And what it really made me start to wonder was about what your options are if you don't have health insurance and can't afford to see anyone.  I've been working a bit with a substance abuse rehabilitation facility in Richmond, and to some extent, it's become clear that for some people, that is their option.

Mental illness does not discriminate based on age, race, or social class.  If anything, being in a poorer situation increases the chances that you will struggle with depression and anxiety.  But the options we have to help people work through these concerns are expensive -- expensive therapies, expensive drugs, appointments with expensive therapists.  The options for those who can't afford those are, statistically, homelessness, prison, substance abuse and rehabilitation (if they can afford it or it's court-ordered), or hospitalization in extreme, high-risk cases.

The fact is that we've created a system that works pretty well for those who have access to it, but we've economically-barred some of the highest-need populations from being able to access mental healthcare.

Mental health advocacy is not simply advocacy for those who have the resources.  It is also advocacy for those who have never had the resources to get the help they need.

Rachel Leigh

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