News & Announcements
For Millions of Americans, Lack of Access to Water Isn’t Just a Drought Problem
Posted: March 22, 2018
The 4 million residents of drought-stricken Cape Town, South Africa, have held Day Zero at bay. Their water-saving efforts appear to have kept the city's taps from running dry just yet. But as Capetonians breathed a sigh of relief this month, some Americans left their homes in rural New Mexico, bucket in hand, to collect water from a nearby livestock trough. Those dirty two or three gallons would be all they had for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing that day. For these Americans, it is always Day Zero.
Water poverty affects nearly 1.6 million people in the United States, but it remains a stubbornly invisible crisis. Before widespread solutions can be rolled out, however, we need to know who exactly is getting by without the taps and the toilets the rest of us take for granted. But such granular data simply doesn't exist.
Here's a bit about what is known. Today, African Americans are twice as likely as whites to live without modern plumbing. In majority-black Lowndes County, Alabama, for instance, only 20% of the community is connected to the municipal sewer system. On the Navajo Nation, 40% of the nearly 170,000 residents still haul water home in bottles or buckets, often at great expense. Impoverished rural communities in Appalachia face water-borne diseases at rates rarely seen in developed nations. Even in California more than 1 million people rely on public drinking water systems that have violated state safety standards, threatening their health.
These observations, while shocking, are really just anecdotal.
The most comprehensive data we have on U.S. water poverty comes from the Census Bureau, but it is maddeningly unspecific and often inaccurate. The Census Bureau's American Community Survey tells us there are about 1.6 million Americans living in housing that lacks "complete plumbing facilities." That could mean they don't have a flush toilet or a bathtub or shower. But it could also mean they don't have piped water at all. Which one is it?
The census data does reveal this much: The problem is experienced most acutely by African Americans in the rural South, Latinos in the rural Southwest, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, residents of deep Appalachia, and migrant and seasonal farmworkers. These are notoriously hard-to-count populations for the census, and data on them is often inaccurate. Even worse, the census' big number — 1.6 million — doesn't include the millions of Americans who have plumbing but unsafe tap water. Think of Flint, Michigan.
We are seeing only the broadest outline of the problem. Census data doesn't tell us which communities are too remote to be served by traditional water lines, which are too poor to afford their own septic systems, or which live too close to water sources contaminated by agriculture or industry. It doesn't tell us how communities cope with these challenges every day. Most important, census data doesn't explain why these communities still don't have access to water and sanitation when nearly every other American does. We need both qualitative and quantitative information from within these communities. Without it we can't forge the right policy solutions, accelerate the implementation of essential water projects, or build the public and political will to end this problem once and for all.
Some important work is already being done to improve equity in U.S. water access, despite this lack of data. Some of the finest examples were recently outlined by the U.S. Water Alliance in its national briefing paper, An Equitable Water Future. San Francisco is addressing disparities in water cost and quality for low-income residents and using the billions of dollars they're investing in system upgrades to create jobs in disadvantaged communities. In California's Central Valley, the Community Water Center is organizing residents with poor water quality to give them a voice in policymaking. This month, DigDeep will finish a project to bring clean water to the St. Michael's Association for Special Education, the only special-needs school on the Navajo Nation. Each of these achievements creates prosperity, health and joy.
For this work to reach a national scale, we need more specificity from the census plumbing data, and a commitment from state and local governments in affected areas to examine the root causes of local water poverty. Universities and NGOs can help by gathering and synthesizing existing national data and by embedding our own researchers in affected communities. They should also convene stakeholders — human rights organizations, the water sector, the private sector, philanthropy and affected communities themselves — to arm them with knowledge.
Every American needs access to the basics — water, food, shelter — to participate fully in society. When these conditions are met, our communities and our economy thrive. Instead of waiting for the next Cape Town or California water crisis to wonder, "Will we still have water tomorrow?" we should be asking right now, "Who needs water today?"
Read more on LATimes.com.
Suicidal Thoughts More Common in Older Chinese-Americans Who’ve Faced Bias, Particularly Immigrants
Posted: March 21, 2018
The impact of prejudice and racial bias on health shouldn’t be underestimated, a new study affirms.
Researchers looked at the relationship between discrimination and suicide ideation, or suicidal thoughts, among older Chinese-Americans. The results, published in August in the The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, showed that those who reported experiencing prejudicial treatment or racial bias were twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts as those who didn’t.
The findings show that the effects of discrimination shouldn’t be taken lightly, Lydia Li, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and a co-author of the study, told HuffPost.
“It’s a serious matter. It’s not something you can just forget ― that you can just brush off. It’s lingering. It cuts into peoples’ thoughts about their place on this planet,” Li told HuffPost. “[Race] might be a social construct, but discrimination really does affect peoples’ lives.”
The study examined more than 3,000 Chinese-American seniors (ages 60 and older) in the greater Chicago area and found that more than 4 percent had experienced suicidal thoughts within a 30-day period.
Those who reported facing discrimination were significantly more likely to do so.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of suicide ideation for the general older U.S. adult population is under 3 percent over a yearlong period ― a much longer period than in the new study.
The elders in the recent study said they most often suffered prejudicial treatment in public spaces and on the street, Li explained. Many also mentioned they experienced discrimination at work.
Li speculates that difficult immigrant experiences coupled with certain values in Chinese culture could potentially account for the higher rates of suicidal thoughts among Chinese-American elders who have faced discrimination. Many are immigrants and don’t have the support networks they’re typically used to in their home countries, she explained. When encountering bigotry or intolerance, they may feel alienated and start to second-guess whether moving to the United States was the right choice for them.
“This experience with discrimination can make people think, ‘Maybe I just don’t belong here.’” she said. “There’s a sense of that they’re not welcome here.”
And because older immigrants may not have had to grapple with discrimination in China, processing these hurtful experiences may be particularly difficult for them.
“It’s not something they’ve been trained to deal with,” Li said. “They didn’t have this experience in the first half of their lives. They didn’t have to cope with that.”
Li added that the concept of “losing face” or bringing shame to families and loved ones can also make it more difficult to deal with discrimination. When Chinese-American seniors experience a racially charged event, like being told to go back to their country, it’s possible they could internalize the bigotry, Li said. They could question whether they did anything wrong and could even end up blaming themselves for the incident.
What’s more, when Chinese-American elders find themselves distressed by these experiences, they often won’t seek out mental health help, Li said, which could ultimately contribute to the occurrence of suicidal thoughts. She explained that the seniors may avoid treatment or solutions due to pride, or simply because the proper language resources don’t exist for them. Many others just don’t know what kinds of services exist or where to go for help. And without getting the assistance they need, suicide may start to feel like a viable alternative for them, Li said.
Li also noted that Chinese studies also showed higher rates of suicide ideation among seniors compared to studies of seniors in the U.S. It’s possible that suicide may be relatively permissible in Chinese culture and therefore contribute to the higher rates of suicidal thoughts in Chinese-American seniors.
She also notes that rates of suicide ideation among older Chinese-Americans could look different in rural regions, since participants in this study all lived in the Chicago area. She also mentioned that the discrepancy in the rate of suicidal ideation in Chinese-American seniors versus that of the general U.S. adult population could be partially due to difference in methodology.
However, the study’s results are still startling, Li said, and shouldn’t be discounted. They point to a serious need to recognize the harmful consequences of bigotry and prejudice. To start, Li feels that the public needs to gain awareness about the very real health effects of discriminatory behavior. And ultimately, advancing civil rights could actually be a form of suicide prevention.
People who have suffered prejudicial treatment and racial bias must be empowered to properly cope with these situations, Li added. She suggested helping new immigrants in particular by stressing that they aren’t alone and that these hateful instances aren’t their fault.
“People aren’t being oversensitive,” she said. “This is a real experience.”
Read more on HuffingtonPost.com.
Study Finds Military Service Strengthens Mental Health In Transgender People
Posted: March 20, 2018
Does military service improve the longterm well-being of transgender individuals? A recent study showed that among older transgender adults, those who were veterans showed greater mental stability than those who had no military experience.
Researchers at the University of Washington turned to a longitudinal study of LGBT older adults, “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which assesses how various life events and situations play roles in the lives of the gay and transgender population.
For their research, the authors looked at 2,450 participants between the ages of 50 and 100. Of those individuals, 183 identified as transgender, and about a quarter of that group were veterans.
It’s believed that anywhere from a tenth to three-quarters of one percent of the estimated 2 million active service members in the United States military identify as transgender, while a 2014 study reported the same for about 134,000 veterans.
When comparing transgender individuals who had served in the military compared to those who didn’t, the veterans showed lower depression rates and overall greater mental health-related quality of life.
Lead author Charles Hoy-Ellis, a former doctoral student at UW, says the challenges that service members take on and their regimented way of life allows them to build up a level of resilience that the general population aren’t equipped with.
“Many people develop an identity as a military person — that it’s not just something they did but something that they are,” he explains in a university release. “If transgender people, who are among the most marginalized, can successfully navigate a military career, with so many of the dynamics around gender in the general population and in the military, then that experience can contribute to a type of identity cohesiveness.”
Researchers hope their findings can help lead to better policies and programs for transgender service members. Of course, such findings could also help LGBT individuals interested in serving feel more comfortable about applying, too.
Learn more on StudyFinds.org.
These Men Reveal What They Wish Others Knew About Men’s Mental Health
Posted: March 19, 2018
More and more men are struggling with mental illness, which means more and more are struggling to talk about it. Though it doesn’t apply to all men, so many men avoid talking about what’s going on inside their minds out of fear of being judged or ignored – or told to ‘man up’.
And so, to encourage men to speak out about their mental health and seek help, Metro spoke to 20 different men about mental illness. They told Metro what they live with, how it affects them and the one thing they wish others knew about men’s mental health – in hopes it’ll encourage more men suffering in silence to seek help.
Ash, 27, has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety
Ash says anxiety and depression can be ‘debilitating’, and affects things like his motivation, nutrition and relationships. He also suffers from panic attacks.
"The main thing I wish everyone knew about mental health is that everyone’s mental health is important and fragile, and it’s okay if you don’t have complete control of it, you can still lead a normal life as a fully functioning member of society. And for those who come across those with mental health difficulties, don’t be so quick to turn away from them. It’s scary enough dealing with it on your own, sometimes having someone that understands is what it takes to make it through the day. And if you do know someone close to you that’s suffering, please check up on them from time to time. Even if they don’t open up, just knowing that someone is willing to be there for them will make a difference."
Sean, 36, who is from the US, has been diagnosed with ADHD
"I truly wish people understood that there is no quick fix to mental issues, that it depends on the area you seek out help, the state, etc. I have a nephew that has been misdiagnosed 5 times in New York City, and there is no support network here for preventative diagnosis. We’re either utterly broken or perfectly fine in the eyes of the state."
Brendan, 34, says the one thing he wish others knew about mental health is how weak it has made him feel due to the stigma around mental illness
"I was always told to 'man up', 'grow a pair' or 'get over it'. I guess that’s all part and parcel of people not realising that mental health is a real illness, not an attitude. It’s universal for men and women but as a boy I was told to be tough and not vulnerable. Letting go of that mindset and acknowledging I had a problem that needed to be talked about was vitally important. Life saving even. I think people really need to understand. The 'manliest' moment in my life didn’t happen when I was ever displaying how tough I was, it happened when I opened up about how fragile I always am. That. That was real bravery. Admitting you’re not strong is the strongest you’ll ever feel. Not necessarily at first, but you soon realise. You’ve never been more of a 'man'."
TJ, 24, who lives with anxiety, says it often causes him to ‘overthink, second guess’ himself and ‘panic’
"It affects me mentally and physically. It’s part of me. It may take me longer to do things, it may make me react better to certain situations than the average person. But it’s not all I am. I’m multifaceted. I have hopes and fears. I enjoy things and despise things. I love and fear things in my own personal way, like everyone else does."
Duncan, 29, has ‘moderate anxiety and depression’
His diagnoses cause him to have bi-weekly panic attacks and low self image, which causes him to over-eat. He has difficulties maintaining relationships.
He wishes others knew that "so much of the struggle comes down to isolation. Something that makes a surprising difference is creating informal, friendly environments for checking in and sharing stories; for example, I co-host a YouTube/Twitch show called Broverwatch, where we sit down with a guest to catch up and have a chat about a mental health issue while playing a video game together – but this could also be the pub after football, or a book club, or even a group chat."
Dan, 34, who has major depression, says he wants people to know that his mental health doesn’t define him
"I used to call myself a depressive. It was an easy way to explain myself. A short cut. But it only shortchanged me, in the long run. It was another barrier I put in the way to stop people getting to know me. I don’t say that anymore, because I am not my depression. I realised that by defining myself by my illness I was limiting my own recovery, and my growth. These associations aren’t always meant as a negative. I’m a writer, and I find the romanticised way people link mental health and creativity to be very reductive. A creative outlet like writing has been instrumental in helping me navigate depressive episodes, or to make sense of my thoughts and feelings. But depression doesn’t make me a better writer. It has taken years of practice and failure to get to this point (my debut novel, Johnny Ruin, is released in the UK on March 22). Saying I owe my creativity to my mental health takes away all that hard work. Depression is not a superpower."
Ian, 53, was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and has suicidal tendencies which are linked to PTSD
Though he has learned to cope with his illness, he says some days are better than others.
"The one thing I wish people knew about mental health is that you are not alone and it is okay to not be okay. You are not alone."
Peter, 28, who has bipolar disorder, says the mood disorder affects him in all sorts of ways If he’s depressed, he finds it difficult to go to the gym or even prepare food
He feels it really affects him physically. The main thing he wishes others knew about mental illness is that it’s not something they’re "somehow smarter than".
"There are all sorts of bizarre things mental illness can make you do; but it’s happening to your brain and thinking you’re bigger than that and able to see through what’s going on can end up exacerbating the whole situation. ‘Swallow your pride and get help from a trained mental health professional."
Jamie, 31, has anxiety and depression
He adds that his anxiety and depression can also affect him physically, making it tough to do his job at times, or even get out of bed.
"I guess the number one thing I’d like to make clear is that there’s no easy quick fix, no diet that can just cure a person, no regimen of medications that’ll work for everyone across the board. It’s a lengthy and deeply personal process. Basically: please stop sending me articles about cutting out gluten."
Stephen, 27, who has an anxiety disorder
He wishes people knew ‘just how things can truly affect’ men living with mental illness.
"For example, social media has some people thinking mental health is a one type of thing. How words can effect someone and really hurt, which is why we should always treat each other with kindness. In America, mental health is not taken as seriously as it needs to be. People need to learn and educate themselves on the signs."
Sebastian, 25, lives with borderline personality disorder
His BPD affects the way he interacts with people. He says he feels his emotions more intensely than the average person which can affect his relationships. He has extreme reactions to abandonment and suffers with anxiety attacks, which have in the past lead him to self harm. Sebastian wishes people were more educated on BPD and what people who live with it go through. ‘So many of BPD traits are demonised by people as we’re ‘just clingy’ or ‘abusive’ based on 1 or 2 extreme high profile examples, instead of listening to us. ‘Our attachment issues are often used against us but we rarely see sympathy as people hear one story of someone writing a letter in blood to their boyfriend or something and think that’s all of us, instead of listening to us. ‘Also on a personal note: I kinda wish people knew that men can suffer from BPD too? I think its percieved as a feminine disorder for some reason and people seem shocked when I tell them I have it!’
David, 55, lives with schizophrenia
David says his schizophrenia can be distracting and incredibly disturbing. "Mental illness is actually very painful, and uncomfortable."
Steve, 35, has anxiety
"I wish more people realised how much men are pressures to be “strong” and emotions are labelled as weakness… and that negatively effects men’s health, and their willingness to seek treatment."
Antonio, 29, who also lives with anxiety, adds that he wishes others knew that when it comes to mental health, everyone is ‘different’
"Mental health problems affect people in different ways and equally there are no ‘one size fits all’ treatments. What might work for some people won’t necessarily work for me."
Tom, 33, who has social anxiety, which makes him feel he’s ‘not good enough’
"I’ve also never felt that people care about me – I like to keep in touch with my friends on a semi regular basis & then don’t hear back from them but see that they are commenting or liking other things on social media."
"When I do meet someone who is different, I naturally then tend to gravitate toward that person and then get really anxious that I’m going to do or say something that pushes them away. Then end up going into a tailspin. It affects me on a weekly basis because I regularly get upset when I don’t hear from people, thinking I’ve done wrong and/or feeling like they don’t care enough to respond. The one thing I wish people would understand and appreciate about anyone’s mental health is that although everyone’s is different, one message can change someone’s life. Even if someone didn’t have the time – just a quick reply to say 'everything’s ok, will reply as soon as I can' will make all the difference. ‘Contact out of the blue as well – instead of me always being the first one to get in touch. It’ll make me feel like I’m cared about and start giving me more confidence in other areas of my life."
Kevin, 35, has anxiety and depression, which when they’re at their worst makes him very ‘antisocial, reclusive and paranoid'
"The one thing I would really wish others new about mental health is that people deal with mental health in different ways, responding how people would not expect doesn’t always mean the issue has gone or I am fine. People with long term mental health become good at hiding it from people," he said.
Matt, 26, who also has depression and anxiety
"It makes simple tasks difficult, makes talking to people even more difficult. Makes life a total and complete struggle in every way you can think of."
Read more on Metro.co.uk.
Listen to ‘The Daily’: Puerto Rico’s Mental Health Crisis
Posted: March 16, 2018
Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 20, flooding neighborhoods and villages and cutting power to 3.4 million people. More than four months later, much of the island is still in shock.
A recent visit to a suicide prevention center shows the long-term toll on mental health in a place struck by an overwhelming impression that the rest of the world has moved on.
Background reading and viewing:
Listen to 'The Daily' audiocast about the Puerto Rico's mental health crisis following Hurricane Maria on NYTimes.com.