Mental Illness in POC and the Poor

9 12 2006

   Besides being interested in feminism and anti-racism, I’ve been a psychology geek for several years now. The other day, i was thinking about how generally screwed-up the mental health system is in America, and how ignored I felt when I was in inpatient care. Then I started thinking about how the politics of race play into this, since I had noticed during my stay at Horsham Clinic how many POC (for future reference, People Of Color) teenagers were there, and more importantly, how many of them were repeat patients. Most of the middle-to-upper class white patients, unless they had severe drug abuse or self-injury issues, got out within a week or two, while everyone poor or POC got stuck in the awful loop of inpatient, outpatient, therapy, out of therapy, crisis, inpatient. I googled “mental illness in minorities” (since google doesn’t seem to recognize the term “POC”) and found several articles that I found of interest. They all confirm my earlier observations: that people of color with mental illness suffer not only from the illnesses, but from the racism, classism, and sexism present in society. According to this link, “Although minorities are just a likely as non-minorities to experience severe mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, they are far less likely to receive treatment. For instance, the percentage of African Americans receiving needed care is only half that of whites, and 24% of Hispanics with depression and anxiety receive appropriate care compared to 34% of whites with the same diagnosis.” The article talks about how there is a profound lack of research concerning mental illness in POC–what a surprise, considering “white” is the default in American society. Also, if one is uninsured or has a lower income (as some POC do due to racism and lack of good medical infrastructure), they are distinctly less likely to receive the care they need.

Another issue is language barriers. Certain groups of POC are more likely to have learned English as a second language or to not have learned it at all, making it hard for them to go to a doctor and describe what’s wrong with them. Also, with the current anti-immigrant climate in this country, I’d be willing to bet that at least one doctor would harass patients over their English difficulties (hey, my own psychiatrist has been condescending towards me due to my being “overly emotional”).

I was also interested in the rate of mental illness in the homeless and the percentage of the homeless who were POC.  This link, which discusses homelessness in St. Louis, states that around 5 to 10 percent of the homeless population is schizophrenic, and that over the years, the number of homeless minorities has increased dramatically. So, the trifecta of poverty, mental illness, and racism strikes again.

I feel that part of the problem is that it seems as if the pharmaceutical and insurance industries are so tightly woven together, they’ve created the mental health industry, which makes providing care to the mentally ill all about profit. This bothers me deeply, as I feel everyone with a mental illness deserves the proper care and treatment, regardless of economic status. I’m not advocating that every therapist and psychiatrist give their services for free, but it wouldn’t kill anybody to establish a few low-cost mental health clinics in areas of poverty.

I don’t know how much I can do to help level the playing field, but perhaps an awareness campaign can help. Does anyone know of any books or articles about such campaigns?

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3 responses

29 12 2006
Sylvia

Hi. You commented on my blog a long long long long time ago, but when I used Blogger I couldn’t figure out how to find your blog. Now I’ve made the switch to WordPress, the search became easier. lol

Thanks for posting this entry. The article about homelessness and its relationship to mental illness hits very close to home for me. When I first learned that my mother was mentally ill, and she had an episode, we stayed in a homeless shelter for a few days after roaming the streets for hours. I could not get her to return home, and we had a home. I can’t really fault my attempts; I was about 9 at the time. But even living in the city, I see homeless black American men roaming the streets, sometimes cursing out television networks on bus stops, begging for change…it makes me sad, and I think the worst thing to do is pretend they don’t exist. A lot of my friends do, but I never dismiss them.

21 02 2007
B

I’ve been thinking about these same issues as well recently, and I’ve been looking for good resources as well.

“my own psychiatrist has been condescending towards me due to my being “overly emotional”
^ I just don’t understand why someone like that would enter a profession like counseling…how ridiculous.

29 03 2008
Jacqueline S. Homan

A newly released book about classism is called “Classism For Dimwits”. You may find alot of answers to your questions on classism, oppression, and why there is so much anger among oppressed people. It is only common sense that people wo are not being afforded the opportunity to meet their basic human needs in any society are bound to have attitudes.

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