A 21st Century Journalism Project

Working Against Yourself

In Defining The Problem on March 1, 2012 at 11:30 am

By Enid Lindenberg


Sample Social Security Card

Those of us born from about 1980 through 1994 are known as Generation Y. Though the timeline is not concrete, one thing is: we are the children of the “baby boomers” and most of us know that by the time we reach the age most of our parents are at now, there will be no Social Security left for us.

During 2012, approximately 45 million Americans will receive Social Security benefits, whether it is from retirement, disability or survivor or family benefits. This year will be yet another with no increase in Social Security compensation even though the government anticipates a small cost-of-living increase next year.

With the federal poverty guideline set at $10,890 per year and Social Security payments at approximately $8,064 per year, those relying on government income risk living in poverty.

Many people receiving Social Security for disability have a mental illness. Serious mental illness drastically impairs a person’s functionality, substantially interfering or limiting one or more life activities. 45.9 million Americans, above the age of 18-years-old experience mental illness. People with mental health issues (which fall under disability) make up 36 percent of the Social Security allocations, up from 24 percent just 20 years ago.

Although mental health problems are less stigmatized today, many people still look negatively upon them. Not every employer wants to hire someone who suffers from depression, bipolar disorder or even post-traumatic stress disorder. These people might be seen as a liability or someone who won’t do all of the work or put in all the effort.

A person with mental health issues should seek professional help. Yet when struggling to make ends meet, things like mental health are overlooked. When faced with the option of feeding yourself and your family versus the cost of a psychiatrist, most people will spend the money on food. When employers choose not to hire people with mental health problems, they make it extremely difficult to break the cycle that arises, of poverty among those with these issues.


Photo credit: Google images

The stress of poverty can also worsen symptoms of mental illness, impairing basic skills. In a situation where you are incapacitated by depression, it becomes difficult to function. It becomes almost a domino effect where things keep getting worse and triggers a deeper depression.

These behaviors can also turn into actions which risk physical health. A person with bipolar disorder can become so enraged they begin punching walls. Someone who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder gets stuck repeating rituals, like washing their hands a specific number of times, to the point where they are bleeding and raw. Depression bogs a person down mentally that they forget to take care of their physical needs, like eating. What these people don’t always realize is that mental stability can be a large boost in getting back on the right track to taking care of themselves as well as being able to get out there and begin work once more.

And for those who already had a job but were let go because of the bad economy, things are more difficult. The “bad job market” and “tough economy” is something often talked about whether in classrooms or just between friends. Some consider this a good time to go back to school because jobs are limited and the available ones call for a higher education. Companies are letting go of employees because of pay cuts and shut-downs or simply to stay above the water financially.

Losing a job can lead to a poorer socioeconomic condition, lack of health care, inability to provide and a daunting struggle to find a new source of income.

Unfortunately, it is more prevalent for individuals in a lower socioeconomic status to suffer from mental illness. People in the lowest level of income, education and occupation are approximately three times more likely to have a mental disorder, especially if the signs of something like depression remain untreated.

People who suffer from bipolar disorder or other long-term mental disorders are affected from the onset. While some disorders are known to affect children and adolescents as well as adults, bipolar disorder usually fully manifests between the ages of 15-25, years when people typically complete education and begin searching for an entry level job. Approximately 60% of individuals with bipolar disorder are unemployed, including some patients with college degrees. Eighty-eight percent have occupation difficulties. This leads to unemployment rates near 60%. Data also shows self-reported bipolar disorder tended to be associated with a 40% reduction in the possibility of paid employment, further limiting opportunities.

It almost seems smarter not to tell your employers or potential employers that you suffer from a chronic mental illness. By not doing so, you are potentially saving yourself from continuing your job search as well as protecting yourself from the stigma attached. Regardless of the choice made, the statistics are not in the favor for those who suffer from mental illness.


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