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HIDDEN PLIGHT: Mental illness isn’t just a national problem, but a local one, too

Data provided by Allegheny County


By Caitlin Spitzer

I once heard a story a couple of years ago about a supervisor for a local alcohol recovery program who was secretly providing alcohol to alcoholics while they were supposed to be in recovery.

I asked why he would do such a thing. He told me he didn’t believe any of the patients could actually get better, so why try? He just wanted to be paid and shovel these people out like cattle being prodded.

I can neither confirm nor deny if this is true, but sadly I do not doubt the possibility of this.

It’s a sad reality that some in the medical and mental health fields don’t believe people can change their way of thinking. And since some people with mental illness also believe they can never get any better, what hope are they to have?

Mental illness is a hidden plight to society. It takes a toll on us socially and economically in ways that may not seem obvious, but when you connect the dots the impact becomes undeniable.

Bringing awareness to these issues is the first step toward getting employers and professionals to take mental health more seriously.

The month of October plays host to several mental health-related holidays to raise awareness, including:

• Domestic Violence Awareness month

• National Bullying Prevention month

•Mental Health Awareness Week (Oct.

3 - 9)

• World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10)

Local impact

One problem that hits close to home is the issue of drug and addiction. It seems that whenever our lower-income neighborhoods end up on the news, it’s for shootings, drugs and overdoses.

Out of the five ZIP-code zones the Gazette 2.0 covers, 15136 has the highest overall overdose rate per 1,000. If you break it down by race, 15225 has the highest overdose rate for Black people and 15204 has the highest overdose rate for white people.

Overdoses and addiction go hand-in-hand with mental health disorders. Many turn to the bottle or needle for relief from symptoms that are the result of disorders, ones that are often highly treatable when the right resources are provided.

Moreso, low-income populations and mental health issues often go together. The World Health Organization released some data that highlights the correlation between the two:

The highest rates of mental disorders are amongst those with the lowest levels of education and highest unemployment.

Common mental health disorders are twice as likely in the poor than they are in rich populations.

Schizophrenia is eight times more likely in people who are in the lowest socio-economic status as opposed to those in the highest.

It’s a vicious cycle – those with mental illness are more likely to end up in poverty than the reverse, and those who end up in poverty are more likely to develop mental illnesses. These groups of people have nowhere else to go and so they’re swept under the rug and treated as second-class citizens.

From the years 2010 to present there have been more than 111 suicides within the following 12 communities:

Crafton: 15
Coraopolis: 17
Ingram: 6
Kennedy: 11
McKees Rocks: 8
Moon: 20
Neville: Fewer than 6
Pennsbury: Fewer than 6
Robinson: 22
Rosslyn Farms: Fewer than 6
Stowe: 8
Thornburg: Fewer than 6

These numbers may not seem terribly high, but imagine there’s someone you know who falls into these numbers – a neighbor, a friend, or – God forbid – a family member. Does that just make them another statistic? No. These were all people who deserved the same level of care and attention as those with chronic physical diseases, but instead they fell through the cracks.

National statistics

On a national level, the effects of mental health are not something that can be ignored.

One example is the secondhand affect mental health issues have on productivity in the workplace. A study conducted by Penn State University in 2018 identified mental health problems as one of the most economically draining types of sickness for workers in the United States. Just one day a month of poor mental health accounted for an almost two percent drop in the per capita real income growth rate. The result was $53 billion in total income that was lost per year.

Moreover, there is a direct link between chronic mental health issues and higher risks for developing certain medical conditions down the line (National Institute of Mental Health). Those with chronic depression have been shown to have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis, to name a few. There are a number of reasons this happens. One could be that people with depression are less likely to care for their overall physical health, including getting regular checkups, eating healthy and exercising.

Physiologically speaking, depression can cause increased inflammation, metabolic changes and changes in heart rate and circulation that, over time, can be damaging.

Hopefully, one day we’ll get to a point where mental health is taken more seriously and addressed sooner rather than later. As it stands, this is a problem we need to continue to look at and to evaluate ways to alleviate the toll it takes on our society – we’ll all be better off for it.

For a list of local mental health providers and facilities, go to


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