Mental Illness and Poverty
After she had worked for thirty years, my neighbour (I'll call her Christie) was diagnosed with a mental illness. On sick leave, she learned what it was like to have a low income.
She became frugal. She ate little because she did not have enough money to buy enough to eat. Christie existed on chicken and beef burgers and frozen mixed vegetables. She was able to afford to eat breakfast at McDonald's. Sometimes for lunch she ate one hot dog accompanied by a dry potato salad. She also ate salmon sandwiches. Occasionally, she went to the one-dollar lunch provided by the Salvation Army. Christie did not have enough money to buy nutritional supplements such as calcium, which she needed for osteoporosis.
When her sick leave became Long Term Disability, Christie had a slight increase in income because she no longer contributed to unemployment insurance funds or retirement plans. Knowing she needed to have better nutrition, she spent the 'extra' money on organic vegetables every three weeks, which was plenty for a single person.
She lost weight to a size three, and her size twelve and fourteen clothes hung upon her thin frame. She shopped at Value Village thrift stores for the few clothes she could afford to buy there, and she still wears some of them ten years later. Other clothes she has discarded for she wore them out to the point of raggedness. Later, Christie gained fifty pounds due to her psychiatric medications, and so needed to buy better-fitting clothes, again at Value Village. (She had given her bigger ones away).
Christie allowed herself the luxury of one movie a week at the discount matinees. However, she didn't always go - either because she had run out of money, or was not well enough to leave home. The movie was her only entertainment. She had no cable television at home for that was an extra monthly expense she could not afford. She limited long distance calls severely which isolated her at a time when she most needed people.
When she completed a needs form for medicines at the mental health center, she learned that her income was 'too high' to qualify for free psych medicines, so for several years she used her credit card to pay for her costly psychiatric drugs. Then she developed GERD (acid reflux), which required a very expensive prescription medication for its management. She decided to complete the needs form once again; she simply had no extra money for more medicines. This time, the needs form succeeded in the bureaucratic process because the 'poverty' income level had been increased, while her income level had not. She fell within the eligible range.
Christie constantly worried about having enough money which added to her psychiatric problems. When she needed to visit relatives because of a wedding, she felt it was a great sacrifice to spend money for a gift and for travelling out of town. She felt huge amounts of guilt when she did so.
Christie wished to take self development workshops to make herself employable again, but did not have her own funds for these. Fortunately, there were, and are, many of these that are free, and she attended a number of them. Also in the interest of rehabilitation, she did volunteer incentive work, earning $100 per month for 40 hours of work. The little extra cash provided her with pocket money for personal care products, movies, and going out for coffee.
Having a mental illness resulted in Christie losing her job and having very little money, which lowered even further her already low self esteem.
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