Statistics show that people with serious mental health issues are more likely to be unemployed, homeless, unmarried and poorer than the average population. But do these factors increase one’s likelihood of developing mental illness, or does mental illness increase one’s likelihood of decreased socioeconomic status? Researchers in Norway looked specifically at people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a population with a unique statistic: people diagnosed with this condition have, on the whole, more education than the average citizen. Because higher education levels are generally a privilege of middle and upper socioeconomic levels, this suggests that, at least in the case of bipolar, it’s the mental health issue that causes the drop in income and social support.
Whether a person becomes socioeconomically disadvantaged because of their mental illness, or whether they are born into a disadvantaged status and then face psychological problems on top of that, the outcome is often the same: the poor often have less access to therapy, counseling, and other treatment, whether for lack of resources, awareness, or both. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has been pushing for increased awareness of how federal and state budget cuts are further widening this gap, especially as continued unemployment and job losses put even more people at risk for finance-related psychological stress. In addition, those people who may have already been in therapy or counseling may have to stop going when they lose their employer-sponsored insurance.
In addition to access, social stigma still plays a role as a barrier to prevention and treatment of mental health issues large and small. Recent studies have shown that despite increased awareness of the facts about mental illness, depression, addiction and other issues, stigma against individuals who struggle with these issues has been virtually unchanged over the past decade. Increasing the well-being of those who deal with mental health issues requires a multi-faceted approach. Ensuring access to and funding for therapy is essential, but so is eliminating the stigma that keeps people from taking advantages of the services and professionals that are there to help them.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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