Poverty and How it Affects Mental Health

Poverty constitutes having less of what is needed to live a healthy life. This includes a job that pays less than minimum wage or no job at all, no health insurance, they may have no home or their home is not safe for humans to live in, not having clean or clothes with no holes in them, or not even having food all. Poverty can take many forms but it all boils down to not having the essential resources for living a healthy life.

Poverty can have adverse results in a person’s life. It can lead to a person being physically unsafe, at risk for different diseases, traumatic situations and even death. One of the most overlooked variables of poverty is mental illness. The stressors brought by poverty induce survival-type behaviors and thoughts. These stressors deplete the mental and emotional energy of people in poverty who are preoccupied with what will be there next meal, will they be safe when they come home, will they have a home, and so on.

There is a strong correlation between mental illnesses and people who live in poverty. Though, poverty can exacerbate mental illnesses, it does not necessarily cause them. On the other hand, sadly, there is an overwhelming amount of people who have mental illnesses that live in poverty. In his article, Socioeconomic Status and Mental Illness: Tests of the Social Causation and Selection Hypotheses, Christopher G. Hudson states that “The poorer one’s socioeconomic conditions are, the higher one’s risk is for mental disability and psychiatric hospitalization.” This is due to a plethora of reasons that are entangled with the lack of sufficient economic means as well as the necessary, and affordable, treatments. People within poverty have a strong prevalence of major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, general anxiety disorder, alcohol dependence or drug dependence, between other disabilities and mental illnesses. Rebeca A. Clay, in her article Fighting Poverty offers extensive information regarding other factors that are intertwined with poverty.

Poverty can have a much more detrimental effect on children who are still developing. The stress from lack of food, physical safety, and emotional regulation has lasting effects on the child’s cognitive process and their emotional development. It can cause longstanding trauma as well as substance abuse, problems in school and in learning.  Perri Klass, in their article Poverty as a Childhood Disease, further explains these problems and other information related to poverty.

Helping these families and individuals is of the utmost priority ; not because it benefits us but because they are people and they deserve to have a healthy and safe life. There are several programs available for people in poverty such as the Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST), where they work towards a holistic approach in getting people out of poverty and providing them mental health.

As for our part, we can spread the word and advocate for more funding in areas that help people within poverty. Sharing resources, support and information can go a long way in helping others. Getting educated and helping out should always be in the forefront of our work even if it is simply sharing resources.

Go out. Help others. Make a difference.

Signing off,

TWS

P.S. The Global Issues page offers more facts regarding poverty. There is also the Mental Health, Poverty and Development fact sheet and The Florida Council for Mental Health Fact Sheet.

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Sexism and How it Affects Mental Health

Merriam-Webster defines sexism as “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially discrimination against women,” and as “behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex”. The main perpetrators of sexism tend to be men. Their actions are usually aimed at policing women, their bodies, their actions and their identity. However, sexism also affects men and can be perpetuated by women. Men can also be policed through their bodies, their actions and the notion of what a ‘real man is’. It is important to establish that no matter who is perpetuating sexism it will affect all genders in all shapes and forms.

Sexism is a double edge sword that was created to benefit men and keep them in power. However, it has come back to hurt them with the same preconceived and stereotyped notions of what a woman’s role and identity should be. Sexism places women as the ‘weaker sex’, where her role is that of a devalued caretaker for children and spouse. Sexism tends to affect men in the opposite way where they are seen as the ‘stronger sex’, where they are forced to always be in control (emotionally and psychologically).

Both of these ideals suppress the identity and worth of the individual. It closes both genders into a stalemate and devalues both of their efforts in having a healthy life. Even though there is nothing wrong in being a caretaker/ homemaker and a breadwinner for your family, it is something that has to come from the person; not from preconceived notions of what men and women should be.

Sexism also works to amplify the idea that there are only two genders. Meaning that there is only women and men and there is no space for a spectrum. This becomes problematic within the world of sexism because what will gender non conforming people do? House work? Be breadwinners? And the answer is: It does not matter. Sexism forces people to think in absolutes and focus on black and white. The inflexibility of thought brings more problems than solving them. Just as women and men should choose what their roles are in society, people on the gender spectrum should exist freely and do whatever it is they want to do.

Sexism, inevitably, affects more than just a person through actions. The internalized belief that men should be top dog when regarding women (and other genders) comes with a psychological prize. Research has shown that, mostly men (as they were the main target of the study) who practice and believe sexist ideas (men should have control over women, constant  control over emotions, an unwavering sense of self-reliance , and so on) tend to suffer from mental health disorders or symptoms that impact them negatively. In the interview, Sexist Men Are More Likely To Have Mental Health Problems, Study Finds, Dr. Y. Joel Wong stated that he and his colleagues were able to link sexist values with depression, stress, anxiety, substance abuse and poor body image. He further explained that these types of men were also less likely to seek out help and get mental health treatment. Consequently, this becomes problematic in a bigger scale because it affects society and at a micro level because it affects the person with the sexist values. It is much like purposefully living off poison.

Sexism is not just gender roles, it is how women are seen as objects, how men have to be macho, how women MUST reproduce, how men are always in control. All these beliefs and values ooze from ads and shows we see, music we hear, conversation we have, people we meet. Sexism surrounds us, and it hurts us. Sexism is one if the reasons that women are unhappy with their bodies and develop eating disorders. Sexism is the reason men are violent to demonstrate dominance.

Feeling safe, feeling happy and feeling fulfilled are important goals to have. Dismantling one of the many oppressive forces in our path is necessary to obtain these goals (and many other). Seeking out help on how to develop your identity, explore who you are and find better options is a good place to start. Please refer to Mentalhealth.gov for mental health resources near you.

Signing off,

TWS

P.S. For further information about the study on sexism and men please refer to this American Psychology Association article.

Racism and How it Affects Mental Health

Merriam Webster defines racism as, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Racism is a pervasive problem in our society that has been aimed at marginalized people, specifically people of color, with the intention of denigrating and hurting them. Racism, though a belief, can be presented in behavior such as verbal abuse, physical attacks and even well-intentioned ignorant comments regarding someone’s race. In a long term process racism can affect the psyche and emotions of the victim of the attacks.

Racism is usually thought of as a physical attack or a racial slur. However, racism can take many forms. There is the micro-aggression which happens when a person makes an ignorant/ stereotyped comment about someone else’s race. It may not be intentional but it has the same impact as an overt act of violence. There is institutionalized racism which happens when private and government agencies only hire specific people for a job. For example, there are companies that actively only hire undocumented immigrants so that they can pay them less than minimum wage. And because the undocumented immigrants can’t go to the police for this injustice they are locked in that situation. This type of racism is also seen at colleges and universities where white students are qualified higher than their peers of color even though they have the same, and sometimes better, qualifications. This type of racism is also seen when specific racial minorities are targeted by police officers for misdemeanors.

For people of color, experiencing high levels of stress is one of the more prevalent mental health issues.  Having to actively go through their day and be faced with situations, news, people and places where they do not feel welcomed or attack them can cause high amounts of tension and preoccupation. Long terms effects of internalized stress can cause heart problems, hypertension, depression, PTSD, and other diseases. As Dr. Monica Williams states in Racism’s Psychological Toll, “race-based stress reactions can be triggered by events that are experienced vicariously, or externally, through a third party — like social media or national news events.”

Racism, at its worst, is when it is internalized by the person of color. This entails that person of color starts believing that they are inferior (as well as other negative stereotypes are true). This can lead to low self-esteem, a skewed sense of self, depression, violence, trauma, a strong sense of rage/anger, among other negative effects.  Many may think that internalized racism may be a result of lack of character or that it can be cured with positive thoughts, however it is rooted in a much deeper place than just the psyche. In her article How Racism Affects Mental Health — & What We Can Do About It, Sarah Jacoby interviews a therapist that talks about the importance of psychotherapy and how it can be helpful for people of color.

Mental health is not solely thoughts and feelings. Mental health is anything and everything that comprises the environment of a person and how that environment impacts a person. Though mental disorders come from chemical imbalances and genet traits, it can be exacerbated or even cause (in the case of trauma) by outside sources. Having to experience a constant hostile environment that overtly and covertly work to make you feel inadequate, unwelcome and broken will eventually have severe side effects. Thus, when we speak about mental health we must also focus on social, cultural and environmental factors such as racism. Veronica Womack explores this theme further in her article A Movement Against Racism Should Be a Movement for Mental Health.

We need to start moving towards a more holistic mental health approach. Staying informed, creating support and getting help is important in these trying times.  Please refer to Mentalhealth.gov for mental health resources near you.

Signing off,

TWS

Mental Health Illnesses: Media’s Misconception

Media usually has a strong pull on popular opinion and norm. It also works towards establishing and maintaining stereotypes about race, gender and mental health. One, of the many other reasons, that mental health is stigmatized is due to how it is portrayed in movies, TV shows and sometimes the news. It can be said that not all of these mediums get mental disorders wrong but they do tend to lean towards ‘sugar coating’ the person’s symptoms and process, or giving them a ‘quick fix’ narrative where the person with a mental health disorder gets ‘cured’ or ‘fixed’

Examples of sugar coating the narrative is A Beautiful Mind where a mathematician’s hallucinations not only become personified, they are given a happy ending where the protagonist makes peace with them. They do not show the mentally arduous process of making peace with their mental disorder, as well as the self-acceptance.  A person can make peace with the symptoms yet it is not a linear process nor is it set in stone. Mental disorders are like waves, they fluctuate, and some days they’re mild and other’s they can drown you.

As for ‘fixing’/’curing’ a person with a mental disorder, Silver Linings Playbook focuses on the symptoms and does almost accurately portray what is like to have bipolar disorder. However, it emphasizes how a relationship can make your bipolar symptoms lessen or even disappear. Support from a loved one is important when working through mental disorders but it does not cure or lessen the symptoms. Wellness and recovery comes from the person with the mental disorder; it is through their decision and effort that they get better not the skewed idea that people with mental illnesses ONLY need love to get better.

The media tends to tie violence to mental disorders which casts a bigger shadow on the already taboo theme. Even though mental disorders are rooted in disordered behaviors and thoughts, most of the people with the mental disorders are not violent. And for those who do have violent tendencies their behavior can be modified with the appropriate care and therapy. Please refer to this Fact Sheet for more information on mental disorders and violence.

With the media there is no middle point for a person with a mental disorder. They are either in need of intensive love, which ultimately cures their illness or they are raging murderers that a hell bent on wiping out all around them.

The other side of the coin for how wrongfully mental disorders are portrayed is focused on the therapist or psychiatrist. The media plays up the role of the male therapist as the all-knowing figure that knows exactly what the client needs. This implies, and creates the wrongful assumption, that therapists know all the answers and all clients need to do is show up and do as they are told. This takes away the agency the client has in real therapy and forces the therapist to work harder than the client; and assumption that is wrong yet very widely believed. In other times therapist is portrayed as a joke or a buffoon. This type of portrayal invalidates the power of therapy and perpetuates the stigma that only crazy people need therapy. Finally, in cases where the therapist is female, they are portrayed as self-reserved women who are repressed and are waiting to find the right mental client to fall in love with. This is problematic in many levels. The first being that it is sexist and perpetuates the idea that women are emotionally set on finding love and can only be validated through a relationship. Second, a therapist does not fall in love with their clients. Not only because it is against all ethical rules but also because a therapist’s role is to support and explore a client’s life. I invite you to read Roger Dobson’s article The bad, sad and crazy movies that mock mental illness, as well as Jules Suzdaltev’s interview with Dr. Danny Wedding, How Good Is Hollywood at Portraying Mental Illness?.

The way media portrays mental disorders is problematic in more levels that I can ever write about in this post. It is for this reason that it is important to be critical about the information that we take in to ourselves and the information we offer the world. When in doubt look up more information. You don’t know about something, ask an expert. Never take what is said as the end all be all; including this post. Stay informed. Stay empathetic. Stay open minded.

Here are other articles that touch on these topics:

Signing off,

TWS

Social Anxiety Disorder: More than being Shy

Social anxiety disorder tends to be downplayed as shyness or misunderstood as a behavioral problem. Social anxiety disorder is chronic fear of being judged or scrutinized by others. It can be debilitating and isolating if not treated on time. It is also known as social phobia, and it can limit a person’s interaction with others. The person who suffers from social anxiety may understand that their fear may be irrational but they may not know how to overcome it.

Social anxiety usually starts in childhood but can last up until late adulthood if there is no treatment or support. Many may confuse feeling regular anxiety or jitters when faced with certain social settings (Ex. Presenting in front of class, meeting someone new), with an unshakable sense of dread or feeling physically paralyzed when interacting in normal day to day settings (Ex. Turning down a job because it involves public speaking). There is a clear difference between feeling stressed in new social settings and being overcome with fear over having to go to parties. The former option, I believe, we all have gone through it and have found a way to overcome it. The latter option, however, is experienced by many others who may have missed many opportunities to share and connect because they are psychologically incapable of doing so on their own.

Some of the symptoms people with social anxiety disorder may feel when having to perform or socialize are:

  • “Blush, sweat, tremble, feel a rapid heart rate, or feel their “mind going blank”
  • Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach
  • Show a rigid body posture, make little eye contact, or speak with an overly soft voice
  • Find it scary and difficult to be with other people, especially those they don’t already know, and have a hard time talking to them even though they wish they could
  • Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed and awkward
  • Be very afraid that other people will judge them
  • Stay away from places where there are other people”

In their article, National Survey Dispels Notion that Social Phobia is the Same as Shyness, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers scientific evidence regarding the false notion that social anxiety disorder is the same as being shy.  NIMM also offers more information on what it feels like to have Social Anxiety Disorder, how to treat it and what causes it. For more in depth information regarding Social Anxiety Disorder please visit The Social Anxiety Association. They are a nonprofit organization that promotes wellness and support regarding social anxiety disorder. The Social Anxiety Institute also offers helpful information regarding treatment, personal experiences and support.

As for coping skills and self-help information, you can surf the internet and find options that can help for you. The first step, as always, is learning more about social anxiety disorder and what it entails. The Anxiety and Depression Association have created an informative and helpful brochure about information on social anxiety disorder. The second step is to get to know yourself and your social anxiety disorder. Even though others may experience a similar illness, everyone is unique and stressors might vary from one person to another. Anxiety BC offers a 9 page brochure about Self-Help Strategies for Social Anxiety. The brochure focuses on how to build up resources for living with social anxiety.

Finally, the most important step, is to seek out professional help. Learning how to help yourself is necessary but having a trained professional to guide your recovery is very important. You are never alone when you have support. Care for yourself and fight for your future.

Signing off,

TWS

Coping Skills: Healthy Vs. Unhealthy

Coping mechanisms are helpful activities that we can use to help us work through hard times. Having coping skills is important when you have mental health disorders because it helps you step away from detrimental symptoms. Having healthy coping skills is important for building resilience, gaining control and processing specific situations.

Coping mechanisms can be classified into healthy or unhealthy. Healthy coping mechanisms are those that help you feel good, as well as move you towards a space of emotional processing, physical wellness and/or a state of self-care. An unhealthy coping mechanism is an activity that becomes a crutch or a necessity to complete to feel better. In other words, the person feels that they are unable to work through difficult moments if they do not have the unhealthy way of coping. The unhealthy coping skill works to numb the senses and avoid the problem instead of helping understand the problem and process it.

Unhealthy coping skills work to avoid or worsen the symptoms. They tend to increase stress and anxiety. It can lead to detrimental behavior and difficulty in creating/sustaining relationships. Examples of unhealthy coping skills are:

  • Excessive Drinking
  • Excessive Smoking
  • Unsafe sex
  • Self-mutilation
  • Ignoring or storing hurt feelings
  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants
  • Excessive working
  • Avoiding problems
  • Denial

Health coping skills give you strength to get over difficult symptoms and situations. It works to relieve stress as well as establish wellness. Examples of healthy coping skills are:

  • Meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Time to Yourself
  • Exercise
  • Reading
  • Going out with friends
  • Going out into nature
  • Giving your pet’s love
  • Doing art
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat healthy
  • See a therapist

There are many ways to express self-care through healthy coping skills. The sky is the limit! It is very easy to fell into unhealthy coping skills. However, keep in mind that they will do more harm than good. Always keep in mind that when you practice healthy coping skills you care for yourself. You give love and support to the most important person in your life, which is you. Nobody can care and love you like you can. So why not do it right?

Signing off,

TWS

P.S. Here’s some more information on coping skills and strategies

Schizophrenia: Facts, Support, and Recovery

Schizophrenia, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, is “a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling.”

A person with schizophrenia can show a wide arrange of symptoms such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking)
  • Movement disorders
  • Flat affect
  • Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life
  • An inability to understand information and use it to make decisions
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention

The cause for schizophrenia is highly debated and still much is unclear about the mental illness. However, research has shown that schizophrenia is highly hereditary. Meaning that having a close family member with schizophrenia can put you at a higher risk of developing the mental illness. Even though, this is not always the case, it is important to screen for symptoms as soon as possible. Another possible cause for schizophrenia is a chemical imbalance in the brain. The chemical imbalance can cause in how stimuli is registered and can lead to an intolerance of certain lights, sounds and atmosphere; which ultimately can cause hallucinations and delusions.

Early warning signs of schizophrenia, as provided by Mental Health America, include, but are not limited to:

  • Hearing or seeing something that isn’t there
  • A constant feeling of being watched
  • Peculiar or nonsensical way of speaking or writing
  • Strange body positioning
  • Feeling indifferent to very important situations
  • Deterioration of academic or work performance
  • A change in personal hygiene and appearance
  • A change in personality
  • Increasing withdrawal from social situations
  • Irrational, angry or fearful response to loved ones
  • Inability to sleep or concentrate
  • Inappropriate or bizarre behavior
  • Extreme preoccupation with religion or the occult

One of the most prevalent symptoms of schizophrenia is psychosis which involves losing touch with reality. Mental Health America offers a screening tool that may help pinpoint early signs of psychosis. This screening tool is no way a diagnostic test and does not serve to diagnose anyone with schizophrenia, psychosis or any other mental disorder.

Schizophrenia can be a severe and debilitating disorder. However, there are always options for treatment and recovery. I invite you to visit Mental Health America for more information on treatment, causes and symptoms. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) also offers great information regarding support and recovery.

Remember that there is always hope. There is always support.

Signing off,

TWS

P.S. I offer you an extensive narrative about what it is like to have Schizophrenia titled Runs in the Family by Siddhartha Mukherjee.