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Economic Inequality in America: The Mentally Ill are Easily Looked Over

The discussion of homelessness cannot take place without the inclusion of the topic of the mentally ill. I am sure that at some point in your life you have casually passed by a homeless person who was definitely talking to themselves or acting in a way that you might find obnoxious. During these times, I bet that you probably concluded on two reasons for why that person is talking to themselves: either the person is on drugs or the person is mentally ill. I believe too often the first option is chosen because the average individual does not know the trials and tribulations that affect the mentally ill. Very few know how much mentally ill people suffer and how much this society directly and indirectly neglects them.

In America the streets are covered with the mentally ill. Some studies show that 50% (it could be as high as 80%) of all homeless people are mentally ill.

Below is a video that looks at the lives of some mentally ill people in America. It is a very good video to introduce this topic. I like the positive aspect of the video that shows people who understand mentally illness and are using their knowledge and solidarity to help the homeless.

The video is found on Al Jazeera, it is called,”Lost and Found,” and it was posted on November 21, 2010.

Below is text from the Al Jazeera website:

Filmmaker: Peggy Holter

According to the US’ substance abuse and mental health services sdministration “as many as 700,000 Americans are homeless on any given night. An estimated 20 to 25 per cent of these people have a serious mental illness”.

The number of people who are homeless in the US has always been a stunning statistic that seems to run counter to the promise of the American Dream. In the past two years, compounded by the deep recession, it is a statistic that has only gotten substantially worse.

There has long been a public policy debate about whether it is homelessness that leads many of those who are mentally ill to wind up on the street or if because they are already an at-risk population and their mental illness grows more severe by the difficult reality of living on the street with no support, no family care and few viable solutions.

A large and growing homeless population is evident in every major city in the US. In Washington, DC it is seen as especially remarkable because so much of it is visible from the halls of power where government entities are meant to find solutions to these issues. Instead the nation’s capital has one of the largest homeless populations – about 40,000 people.

Among that number there is a seemingly equally intractable issue, the mentally ill homeless. For the past 30 years this number has grown substantially as the support services provided to them have been eroded. It is now believed that the percentage of those among the homeless who are mentally ill is close to 40 per cent across the country.

During the 1980s, the indigent mentally ill would be institutionalised by court order until they were successfully treated or other resources could be found to support them. When that policy ended it led to a surge in the number of mentally ill homeless and that has continued to grow in the following decades.

Vagrancy charges were frequently used to get many of the homeless, including the mentally ill, off the streets. But this led only to short-term housing solutions with no connection to long-term mental health care. Further, it led to petty crime cases clogging court dockets.

Some alternative health care solutions are available, including short-term stints under a doctor’s care and prescriptions for medication to treat many of the disorders that are most common among this population, such as schizophrenia. But being homeless and without any long-term financial support often means that regular access to prescriptions and maintaining a schedule with a therapist is almost impossible.Over the years countless efforts have been made to address this issue at governmental and charity levels. But there is a conflict between those who believe that providing housing should be a primary concern because mental illness exists regardless of whether or not somebody has a home and those who believe that only when the reasons behind homelessness – be it mental illness, substance abuse or economic need – are resolved, can stable housing be provided by the government.

It is in this swirl of debate that we found David and Nellie – each with their own troubled journey and issues. Their cases are different, as are the solutions outlined in this film.

There are a number of initiatives that are being pursued in Washington. One is a court-based programme that is devoted strictly to providing a non-incarceration route for the mentally ill who have been arrested for petty crimes.

Another solution that is outlined in this film is part of a non-profit organisation called Pathways to Housing. It was founded in the early 1990s by Sam Tsemberis and now operates in a number of cities across the US. Its goal is to provide stable and ultimately affordable housing to those in greatest need among the homeless, whether they are mentally ill, recovering from substance abuse or simply navigating the difficult transition back from economic ruin.

Peace!

Reference:

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2010/11/201011166511982384.html

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3 thoughts on “Economic Inequality in America: The Mentally Ill are Easily Looked Over

  1. Jeff Nguyen on said:

    Good information and awareness you’re bringing here. The brain is one of the only parts of our bodies where there is a stigma attached if its dysfunctional. Do people choose to be mentally ill or inherit genetic predispositions to mental illness? Then, why does society punish those who are so afflicted. Perhaps, their fragileness makes us uncomfortable because they remind us of our own limitations.

    • Hello Jeff
      Hope that you are fine. Thank you for your comment. I will reply appropriately when I am back online. I have been thinking about what you have said, Thank you.

      Take care.

    • Hello Jeff
      Hope that you are fine. The question( Do people….?) was one that should be the stepping stone for some to begin to accept people who are mentally ill. I personally do not believe that people choose to be mentally ill, especially if it is something like PTSD of Down Syndrome.

      In the text below taken from the video, it states,”There has long been a public policy debate about whether it is homelessness that leads many of those who are mentally ill to wind up on the street or if because they are already an at-risk population and their mental illness grows more severe by the difficult reality of living on the street with no support, no family care and few viable solutions.” The problem it that people are homeless in the first place and if you look into their families history, they were probably always poor or some crucial event such as the FBI’s distribution of crack to the black community in the 70’s or a work related accident. Caused a series of unfortunate events. But I do agree that some people are susceptible to depression but this is not the same thing.

      I do not know how much you follow information or traffic surrounding mental health. But One thing you might have noticed is that almost every country/region/culture/society, whatever it is because I feel mental illness is complex depending on what perspective you choose to take. What I am trying to say is that different people/cultures/societies treat the mentally ill badly but in their own ways. I believe that one of the biggest problem (in other countries) is that the mentally ill cannot contribute to the family. When they are young, their mental disability might prevent them from pulling their own weight around the house. When they get older it might prove to be difficult to provide for a family in an area where the man of the house is usually the main provider. So the mentally ill are shunned, some society send them off to get some form of torture, like shock therapy in the attempt to take the illness away. I can only imagine, what some indigenous cultures did/doing, incredible chants and or sacrifices in attempt to rid one of the illness. In Africa, I could imagine the mentally ill being accused of witch-craft and then being shunned or sacrificed (could have happened in the Medieval times). I am sure some cultures take care of the mentally ill. But in America it is different, in the text taken from Al Jazeera it states,” During the 1980s, the indigent mentally ill would be institutionalized by court order until they were successfully treated or other resources could be found to support them.” America used to send them (the mentally ill) away until the money ran out; then it would run into them in the street and stare in fear; now it sends them to prison and makes money doing it.

      It is too bad that some people simply fear what is different, what they do not understand. The fact that some people are mentally ill, or homosexual, or colored, etc, is enough for them to be looked down upon. And the crucial thing is that some people in power are the most afraid. with all that said more research is looking into mental illness and how it affects us. Hopefully we use the information for good.

      Thank you Jeff for your participation.

      Peace!

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