The Homeless and Mental Health

Posted: June 22, 2011 in Uncategorized
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“According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Serviced Administration, 20-25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some sort of severe mental illness.” This is a direct quote from the mental health factsheet at put together by the National Coalition of the Homeless on their web site (Here). This is in comparison with only 6% of Americans total who suffer from these debilitating issues, this makes it the third largest reason for homelessness in America. By serious mental illness it is meant a disturbance that significantly disrupts the individuals ability to perform one or more of life’s essential functions. Things such as the ability to relate to others in appropriate ways, or to hold down a job, or participate in school and even in very sever cases even discern reality from fantasy.

Before 1981 programs that assisted in the treatment of the mentally ill and of homelessness as a whole were available in numbers that made dealing with the issue reasonably well funded and staffed. However, with the coming of Ronald Reagan and his attitude of  “There are always going to be people,They make it their own choice for staying out there.”, the budget for such things underwent a sever time of cuts and inattention to the issue. How sever were the cuts?

“Federal expenditures for low-cost housing plunged during Reagan’s watch from $32 billion in 1981 to just $7 billion in 1987. At the same time, funding was slashed for a variety of social services, including public health, drug rehab and food stamps — programs that were relied upon by the thousands of mentally ill people who’d been released from state facilities as a cost-cutting move.” This from the Artical collection. This was done by the same President who refused and denied the existence of AIDS until the year 1987, well into the soon to be epidemic.

Since then the programs available for the treatment of the mentally ill have persistently shrank  in number, as have the programs that housed these people. The results of this has been an ever increasing number of mentally ill individuals living both in our prisons and on our streets. People who are as much, if not more, a victim of their disability than those who are forced to support them in our prisons and social services departments. We as tax payers, or should i say, those of you who are working and therefor paying taxes, should demand more from our tax dollars and our politicians in dealing with this issue. With the right effort and programs we could begin to provide treatments and medicines for these individuals that, in the long run, would mean less spending on these people. A mentally ill individual who is on the correct medicine is significantly less of a financial burden than one who is not and therefore acting out of their disorder. Those who are on the correct medications and taking them responsibly have a much greater chance of finding and maintaining employment, staying out of jail for disorder related behavior and there for add less to the monetary burden of treating them. With the right treatments many of these individuals can become productive and social additions to society, however, if allowed to go untreated they can do very little other than be a very heavy burden for society to carry.

A little about Yours truly. I am a sufferer of a strong case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This disorder affects me in several ways. First of all, it creates a strong insomnia that has in the past kept me awake for 2 sometimes close to 3 days when untreated. This makes it easier to not think things through as well as i should and will often create a sense of irritability that is unneeded as moodiness and anger inappropriateness  are also issues associated with the disorder. I suffer from a very much exaggerated startle response. For those of you who do not understand this, it means when something like a loud noise or unexpected touch happens, whereas the normal person may jump a little, i not only jump a lot, but my pulse starts racing and i enter into a near panic state of being that is very uncomfortable and stressful. The worse aspect of this disorder, however, is the sever depression that will, out of nowhere, often come over me.

Everyone to an extent suffers depression at one point or another in their lives. However, for most this is a passing phase and not to a great degree. The depression that comes over those of us with disabilities that  involve depression are so much worse than that. I will use myself as an example of this.

My day starts normal, i am in a good mood and things seem to be going well for me. I act in my normal fashion and i behave in a manner that shows me to be a confident, friendly person who is generally happy. about mid day something happens to trigger the depression, and in most situations i do not realize what it is, but it happens and i notice I’m feeling a bit down. By the next morning when i wake up either it is gone, or i am feeling 100% incapable of doing anything right, of ever being happy again. The depression reaches in and grabs hold of your heart, your mind and your very throat and begins to fall over you like a mountain that will suffocate the very life from you. You can’t breath, cant concentrate and, in some situations, consider ending it all to get away from it. Many many years ago I went as far as to attempt suicide and luckily was saved by the medical professionals in the area i lived. I have a history of self-abuse and cutting behavior. All of this s in the distant past, but it’s still there. The pull of it all is sometimes unbearable and takes everything I have to cope with it. However, I do cope with it, but only thanks to the mental health professionals who spent the time and effort to treat me for many years until i got to the point where I could cope well with it. Many of hem for free!! Much respect and love for all of them.

So, here is a logical human being who has done things as illogical as attempting suicide and cutting on himself as a means or stress relief. Pretty illogical behavior right? Here’s the thing though, that is what mental disabilities are all about. Illogical behavior, actions and beliefs in our fairly logical world. This is the thing with these disabilities. The illogical mind takes over and begins to show you things, resolutions, outcomes and escape hatches that do not work well in our society and as a result we come out looking “crazy” or “not right”.  Of course, we are not right. Those of us have issues and things that conflict with our ability to reason and behave according to social norms and this creates issues for us at the most intimate levels of our lives. We follow our own distorted outlook and reasoning on these things and we come out looking out-of-place. Fortunately most of us can get better and can find fixes for the issues we have. Counseling, medication and basic humane treatment often help in these situations. Myself, i have a prescription for both Celexa, an anti-depression medication , and Trazadone, also an anti-depression medication but more often used for insomnia. So all should be okay and right correct?

No, it’s not. For those of us who are homeless there are many barriers to these solutions. One, mental health counseling is not cheap. Mater of fact it is a very expensive undertaking, typically $25-$75 an hour, or $100-$300 a month. Of course, there are often other options that offer a sliding scale and even some that are free of charge, but these are rare.  Example, Trazadone goes for between $100-$200 a month( 30 pills typically) and Celexa for over $200 a month. So, $300-$400 for meds and another $100-$300 for therapy and……… Do you see where this is going? Add to that my medication for migraines and how do i afford that? Now let’s be realistic here, my medications are cheap compared to many of the medications needed by those who suffer schizophrenia or need anti-psychotic for other issues. Zyprexa, a common anti-psychotic used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar issues goes for about $365 a month. This medication by the way earns it maker an estimated $8000 a minute! Yes, a minute, over 3 billion a year from this one pill. Yes, there are health care programs from the states in some of them, but in Oregon if you are anything less than a pregnant woman you are going to have a hard time qualifying for the Oregon Health Plan. I can not imagine it would be much easier in other states.

Keep in mind, that when you see a homeless man or woman in the streets who has obvious mental issues, its not their fault nor their choice. No one chooses to have a disability they can not control and no one enjoys them when they do have them. My case is extremely mild compared to a lot of disabled individuals out there. At least i do not hear voices, nor do i see things or any of those issues, but many do. No matter how aggressive some may act, or how violent they may seem, very few of the mentally ill are actually a threat, most are 100% harmless. So when you see these people. please show them compassion. Ask them how their day is and smile at them. Believe it or not, for most it helps and is appreciated.






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