When Mental Illness and Poverty Intertwine

As if navigating life with a severe mental illness doesn’t create enough challenges, mental health difficulties often result in an array of additional debilitating hurdles. Because many living with mental illnesses do not have the ability to hold a job, poverty is often a constant companion. With poverty comes homelessness, poor health and insufficient nutrition, not to mention the less visible struggles with stigma and shame.

Members of the Well Community deal every day with serious mental health disorders such as bipolar, schizophrenia and major depression. And they live each hour with the despair of poverty.

Jazmine*, for example, lives with diabetes and would like to have a healthy daily diet and get regular exercise; but mobility is difficult. In addition, she can become easily disoriented, so taking a walk in the neighborhood is not possible. The unlicensed boarding house where she lives provides daily meals, but food consists mostly of starches and prepackaged items, and fresh fruits and vegetables are rarely available to her. She’s grateful for the nutritious lunches she receives at the Well Community. Edward looks forward to meals at the Well, too. The rest of the week, his food source is the local gas station food mart. Often he’ll help their staff clean up the outside of the building to barter for a soda and hot dog.

That’s what makes lunches at the Well Community such an important component of Jazmine’s and Edward’s mental health plans. The Well staff takes care to be sure they and other members can have robust, nutritious meals four times a week.

José has dealt with pain in his leg for many years. Navigating the various buses he needs to take to get to the hospital is an overwhelmingly complex process for him, and once there he waits for hours to be seen. At each visit he is seen by a different doctor, so there is no continuity of care. Poverty, mental illness and a disjointed health care system have made just too many hurdles for José, so he lives with the leg pain.

Alan and Sylvia shared life together for many years and attended the Well regularly. When Sylvia’s health began to fail significantly, she was placed in a nursing home quite a distance from their apartment. Alan was not able to find his way to see her and slumped into a sustained depression. He still comes to the Well, where the staff assist with bus passes for medical and mental health appointments and offer encouragement.

For members of the Well Community, the stresses of poverty in their daily lives are often insurmountable. The Well provides a community that understands and supports.

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*names have been changed

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