by Anna Thiemann

Mental Illness and Health Disparity

The largest health disparity that many are not talking about is mental illness. A recent study found that Americans with depression, bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses die 15 to 30 years younger than those without mental illness. This health gap is larger than socioeconomic class, race, or geography, and it has been growing in recent years. People with mental illness have higher rates of homelessness, poverty, obesity, and tobacco use, and they rarely receive treatment for their chronic conditions. When the mentally ill seek medical attention, their other medical conditions often go undiagnosed, treatment options are dismissed, or their complaints are overshadowed by their mental status. Studies have supported this. As Dhruv Khuliar from The New York Times explains, patients with mental illness are much less likely to undergo cardiac catheterization when they show heart attack symptoms. They’re also less likely to get standard diabetes care like blood tests or eye exams, or to be screened and treated for cancer.” It is clear that mental illness can get in the way of patients receiving the right care for their physical needs, and it can prevent many patients from taking care of their own health. However, new programs that focus on personalized whole-person care are committed to helping these patients and decreasing health disparities. For example, UT Health San Antonio started a transitional clinic to assist mentally ill patients after they are discharged from emergency services. Programs like these are meeting the distinct needs of these patients.


San Francisco’s New Plan to Treat Opioid Addiction

For years, San Francisco has been dealing with a homeless crisis. According to a recent report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than one percent of the nation’s entire homeless population live within the city. The number of people living on the streets in San Francisco is estimated to be close to 7,000. Amid this homelessness crisis, there is an opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day, and the problem is particularly acute among the homeless. Mayor Mark Farrell has announced a new program to meet people where they are and treat opioid addiction on the streets. With a new budget plan, a special medical team is set to offer buprenorphine prescriptions at needle exchanges, public parks, and other public places. Buprenorphine medications are used to stop opioid cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms, and can be picked up at a city-managed pharmacy nearby. Farrell stated the San Francisco Chronicle, “The consequences of standing ill on this issue are unacceptable. Drug abuse is rampant on our streets, and the recipe of waiting for addicts to come into a clinic is not working. Plain and simple. So, we’re going to take a different approach.” Dr. Barry Zevin, the city’s medical director for Street Medicine and Shelter Health, hopes to provide buprenorphine to 250 more people through the program. “That’s only a tiny fraction of the estimated 22,500 people in San Francisco who actively inject drugs”, he said, “but it’s a start.”