How mental health organizations can incorporate the Poverty Stoplight
Jun 4, 2018
Millions of Americans are affected by mental health illness every year. Data from Mental Health America shows that on average, 18.5% of adults, 21.4% of youth (aged 13-18) and 13.3% of children have experienced severe cases of mental illness in any given year. These illnesses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, phobias, major depressive episodes, substance use and anxiety disorders. On average, adults living with mental illnesses die 25 years earlier than others from conditions that are medically treatable. Suicide is the leading cause of death, and over 90% of children who die by suicide are confirmed to have suffered some form of mental illness.
According to research published by the LA Times, at least 59% of the 185 public mass shootings that took place in the United States from 1900 to 2017 were carried out by people who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or demonstrated signs of serious mental illness prior to the attack. Another related factor is drug overdose, which became the leading cause of death in America for people under 50 years of age. Approximately 64,000 people died from drug overdose in the United States in 2016—the largest annual increase in drug related deaths ever recorded in its history. Much of the drug overdose problem is linked to prescription/illicit drugs and substance abuse related problems, often caused by or leading to addiction, a major cause of mental health illness.
In an effort to create awareness and curb the stigma associated with mental health issues, May is recognized annually as Mental Health Month across the United States. Awareness activities and programs are conducted, and organizations are encouraged to spread the word or support processes aimed at encouraging improved mental care, quality of life and recovery of individuals living with mental health conditions.
The lack of early diagnosis and treatment continues to plague many victims, especially those living in low-income neighborhoods, with poverty and unemployment reported to be a leading trigger of mental health related problems. A significant number of these victims lack the financial means and strong social support systems that can help the early detection and treatment of their mental health conditions. Also, the growing level of inequality in recent decades has seen the decline in quality of life for many families—especially among minority groups—thus exacerbating the risks of mental health problems. The combination of the severe lack of awareness about mental health, the low literacy levels associated with these groups and the social stigma linked with mental health illness presents a serious barrier to the identification, openness and subsequent diagnosis of mental health illness.
Even though intervention methods and awareness programs have escalated progressively over the years, the existing social stigma, as well as economic and political factors, continue to hinder the discussion and successful implementation of solutions necessary to tackle mental health illness. Hence, it is up to health-focused organizations to advocate and innovate to resolve these problems.
It is reported that loneliness, poverty, bad living conditions and poor physical health are prevalent among mentally ill individuals. However, there is hope that by improving community-based programs, awareness and the incorporation of the Poverty Stoplight in the recovery programs, individuals can be properly assessed using poverty indicators. This way personalized poverty elimination plans specific to each individual can be designed and implemented with a keen focus on recognizing problem areas, breaking them down into smaller manageable tasks and harnessing their skills to create avenues to solve these problems.
The Poverty Stoplight provides a unique opportunity for families and individuals to provide feedback about their social conditions, and to set actionable goals to resolve areas of hardship. Specifically, as an empowerment tool for individuals in mental health recovery programs, organizations can design precise solutions that address specific challenges. The Poverty Stoplight can be used as a tool for generating feelings of empowerment and fostering a sense of self-worth in recovering individuals affected by mental health conditions. Subsequently, mental health organizations can leverage the data to advocate for strong mental health policies both at the local and national level.
The Poverty Stoplight can also serve as a platform to connect individuals recovering from mental health challenges to therapy, including sessions for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, organized by mental health-focused organizations. Safe and positive environments can be created for individuals living with mental health illnesses so they can interact, tell their stories and foster healthy relationships through social participation, such as the Poverty Stoplight mentoring programs, that encourage recovery. This has the potential to influence positive outcomes not only among the individuals living with mental illness, but their families and communities at large.