SAMANTHA HERNANDEZ ’17
Think of all the homeless people you see talking to themselves, or an imaginary friend. Not to assume that they are all mentally ill, but if they are they can not receive the appropriate help. An estimated 26.2% of Americans ages 18 and older – about one in four adults– suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When this percentage is applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population for ages 18 and older the figure translates to about 57.7 million people. This is a large percentage of the population, so why do so many of these victims feel alone? Why is this an issue that makes Americans uncomfortable?
It is common for these patients to go undiagnosed and therefore not receive treatment. Many patients who go undiagnosed are usually in the lower class. Under diagnosing of mental illness is not good for society and because of it there is less conversation about mental illness. This not only leaves the lower class in a vicious cycle, but also skews societies idea of mental illnesses.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “mental illness is defined as a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Some serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.” By this definition, mental illness is more common than people think. Many Americans are affected daily by a mental disorder, yet don’t feel comfortable reaching out for help. Many people hide their diagnoses because of the stereotypes the term holds. Some of the stereotypes that the term mental illness evokes are crazy, helpless, hopeless, pathetic, and harmful, to say the least. Who would want to be associated with such negative, hurtful and untrue assumptions? I would not want to be considered any of those things for being the victim of a disorder. These stereotypes are the main reason that people deny their mental illness and suffer through their disorder.
Over the last twenty years, poverty and mental illness have been closely studied; the results show a close interaction between the two factors. Common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are about twice as frequent among the poor versus the rich. For example, depression is 1.5 to 2 times more prevalent among the lower income groups of a population. People suffering from hunger or facing debts are proven more likely to have a mental illness.
People with the lowest socio-economic status have 8 times the risk for schizophrenia then those with the highest socio- economic status. One reason that people living in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing a mental illness is because they lack financial resources to maintain basic living standards. They are exposed to adverse living environments and are less able to access good quality health care. Many people living in poverty do not have health care and therefore are not able to receive help. The highest percentage of mental disorders is located within the poorest communities, but they are the highest percentage to go undiagnosed. One way to try and fix the problem in the poorer communities is to allocate government funds to open free clinics. It would be imperative that the clinics are mainly placed in lower income neighborhoods. These clinics would hold group therapy sessions, meditation classes, and house an onsite psychiatrist. This option would allow for anyone to receive proper help and not risk a wrong self diagnoses. The most dangerous people are the ones who do not receive help, and these clinics would be a safe, free space to receive it. The positive correlation between poverty and undiagnosed mental illnesses proves how beneficial a free clinic would be. It would give those, who did not previously have access to facilities of this type, a chance to receive help. Also by creating these clinics it would help stop the negative connotations regarding mental disorders, because more people would be diagnosed and realize how common this is. As more people are educated about mental illness and realize that they suffer from some sort of it, whether it is acute anxiety disorder or schizophrenia, the connotations surrounding the word should become less traumatizing. These are solutions to try and break the multiple vicious cycles surrounding mental illness in society. By creating a change, we can break the cycles and change the way that mental illness is perceived in society.