Mental Health and Public Policy

*This blog is a part of the PH8001: Mental Health and Public Policy course at the University of Missouri.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Helping the homeless

The December 2009 issue of Monitor on Psychology published an article focusing on interventions that help individuals who are homeless. I find this topic to be fascinating, ever since I read Mitchell's Duneier's book, Sidewalk, about homeless (marginalized) individuals.

What I found most striking is the following paragraph:

"Other research suggests that helping mentally ill homeless people find permanent housing also helps society by lowering costs in the long run. A 2006 study by the Denver Housing First Collaborative found that the public cost of caring for Denver's homeless, which includes emergency care, shelter, detox programs and incarceration, was $43,239 per person annually. Moving those people into permanent homes reduced that figure to $11,694 annually, saving the city $31,545 per individual. That more than covers the $13,400-per-year it costs to house each individual. A similar 2006 report by Portland's Community Engagement Program found that providing housing to homeless people dropped public costs from $42,075 to $17,199 per person" (Price, 2009, p. 62).

Would local politicians and city officials be convinced by these statistics? It seems to me to be a no-brainer. However, given how our society stigmatizes homeless individuals, I wouldn't be surprised if some people would oppose such measures, because of the idea that such acts of kindness ultimately prevents these individuals from helping themselves.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Obesity in America: Being Sensitive, Not Stigmatizing

On Thursday, February 11th, I caught an intense conversation about childhood obesity on the Diane Rehm's radio show. I don't know the specific statistics regarding obesity, but I keep hearing that childhood obesity is on the rise and that more people will be diagnosed with Type II diabetes. The rise in obesity related diseases and conditions are also thought to require greater spending on health care.

In the past weeks, network media have also highlighted Michelle Obama's initiative to reduce childhood obesity.

Because I care about issues of public health, I naturally support any effort to improve health and prevent illness and disease. However,efforts and campaigns to reduce obesity are sometimes criticized for perpetuating the stigma against individuals who are obese. By focusing on "reducing obesity," our public health professionals and Michelle Obama worsening the stigmatization of individuals who are not "normal weight"?

According to some researchers, our concern with obesity has more to do with morality than science, and the danger of campaigns against obesity is greater hatred and disgust (much of which may be subtle, rather than blatant) of individuals who are not "normal weight." So, in the end, could this campaign adversely affect how obese individuals view themselves?

What is interesting to consider is the link between obesity and socioeconomic status. It costs more money to eat healthier. Also (to add another "mental health" spin to this post), marginalized groups are more likely to experience stress and stress-related health outcomes, such as unhealthy fat gain and clogged arteries. Clearly, there are many factors involved in weight gain.

The question remains: If we agree that obesity is a problem in America (not everyone agrees), how can public health professionals sensitively address this issue?