0
Get Alert
Please Wait... Processing your request... Please Wait.
You must sign in to sign-up for alerts.

Please confirm that your email address is correct, so you can successfully receive this alert.

1
Letters   |    
Poverty, Social Problems, and Serious Mental Illness
Carl I. Cohen, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2002; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.53.7.899-a

To the Editor: Nelson's response (1) to the article in the May issue by Draine and his colleagues (2) illustrates the stubborn persistence of clinical illusions about the relationship between mental illness and crime, unemployment, and poverty. Nelson states that the article "does not succeed in showing that untreated mental illness is not substantially associated with these conditions." Draine and colleagues' extensive documentation that the effects of mental illness are considerably smaller than have been implied in the psychiatric services literature would cause most readers to turn Nelson's response on its head: "Psychiatrists have not succeeded in showing that untreated mental illness per se is substantially associated with these conditions."

Perhaps because of their clinical roles, psychiatrists more easily identify the proximal causes of these conditions. Thus Nelson points to "the paranoia often associated with homelessness." Indeed, mental illness may appear to be the dominant factor at the point of entry into homelessness, unemployment, or prison. However, a scientific approach necessitates that we ask questions about distal causes (3). For example, what is it about persons with mental illness that make them more likely to become homeless? The article by Draine and colleagues provides evidence that factors such as poverty, unavailability of low-cost housing, and the inaccessibility of services more strongly explain why a mentally ill person shows up at the shelter door than does his or her psychosis.

Despite the excellence of the article by Draine and his colleagues, they have relied primarily on one conceptual model, whereas a multitiered approach must be considered. The effects of the relationship between poverty (P) and mental illness (M) on outcomes (O) such as homelessness, unemployment, or criminality can be understood by at least three different models, which are not mutually exclusive (4). The first model postulates that the relationship is additive: P + M=O. Thus M may have an independent effect on O, and then P further increases the likelihood of O. However, this model also allows for P to modify the effects of M. In other words, if there is a correlation between the two, adding P to the analysis would diminish the original effect of M on O.

The Draine article focused primarily on the implications related to this model. However, a second model proposes that the relationship may also be interactive: P × M=O. Hence, the likelihood of O increases appreciably as the level of P or M increases, and conversely, if the level of either P or M is low, the risk of O is much less.

The third model hypothesizes that the relationship between P and M are dialectical so that they are mutually transforming. Thus P alters M so that the mentally ill person who becomes poor is more vulnerable to O, or conversely, a poor person who becomes mentally ill is more vulnerable to O.

Although I agree with Severson and Lieberman (5) that it is time to put money into solving these problems, they minimize the necessity of combining theoretical research with practice as well as the role research plays in refuting those who neglect the social concomitants of mental illness in favor of biomedical solutions. The wheel keeps being reinvented because scientific research is not a dispassionate enterprise. Too often, the questions posed and whether results are acted upon depend on sociopolitical forces.

Dr. Cohen is professor in the department of psychiatry and director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Nelson SH: A second opinion. Psychiatric Services 53:573,  2002
[CrossRef]
 
Draine J, Salzer MS, Culhane DP, et al: Role of social disadvantage in crime, joblessness, and homelessness among persons with serious mental illness. Psychiatric Services 53:565-573,  2002
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Link BG, Phelan JC: Social conditions as fundamental cause of disease. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 36(special issue):80-94,  1995
 
Cohen CI: Poverty and the course of schizophrenia: implications for research and policy. Hospital and Community Psychiatry 44:951-958,  1993
[PubMed]
 
Severson ME, Lieberman AA: The wheel, reinvented. Psychiatric Services 53:507,  2002
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
+

References

Nelson SH: A second opinion. Psychiatric Services 53:573,  2002
[CrossRef]
 
Draine J, Salzer MS, Culhane DP, et al: Role of social disadvantage in crime, joblessness, and homelessness among persons with serious mental illness. Psychiatric Services 53:565-573,  2002
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Link BG, Phelan JC: Social conditions as fundamental cause of disease. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 36(special issue):80-94,  1995
 
Cohen CI: Poverty and the course of schizophrenia: implications for research and policy. Hospital and Community Psychiatry 44:951-958,  1993
[PubMed]
 
Severson ME, Lieberman AA: The wheel, reinvented. Psychiatric Services 53:507,  2002
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
+
+

CME Activity

There is currently no quiz available for this resource. Please click here to go to the CME page to find another.
Submit a Comments
Please read the other comments before you post yours. Contributors must reveal any conflict of interest.
Comments are moderated and will appear on the site at the discertion of APA editorial staff.

* = Required Field
(if multiple authors, separate names by comma)
Example: John Doe



Web of Science® Times Cited: 4

Related Content
Books
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, 4th Edition > Chapter 33.  >
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychopharmacology, 4th Edition > Chapter 49.  >
Dulcan's Textbook of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry > Chapter 65.  >
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychopharmacology, 4th Edition > Chapter 49.  >
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition > Chapter 0.  >
Topic Collections
Psychiatric News
PubMed Articles