Providing Mental Health Services to TANF Recipients: Program Design Choices and Implementation Challenges in Four States. Higher-Than-Average Incidence of Mental Health Conditions among Low-Income Families and Certain Minority Groups


According to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General (1999), low-income families and certain minority groups have higher-than-average rates of mental disorders. Those in the lowest socioeconomic group are about two-and-a-half times more likely to have a mental disorder than those in the highest socioeconomic group (Holzer et al. 1986, Regier et al. 1993). In a study of mental health conditions among single mothers, Jayakody and Stauffer (2001) found that single mothers have significantly higher rates of psychiatric disorders than do married mothers, and that low-income single mothers and those receiving cash assistance have even higher rates of psychiatric disorders than do single mothers who earn more than $20,000 a year. In a review of depression and low-income women, Lennon et al. (2001) reported that the rates of depression among low-income families are approximately twice those in higher-income families. Poor women   particularly those who have been exposed to traumatic experiences such as childhood abuse, domestic violence, rape, and other criminal behaviors   are at even greater risk for mental health problems (Bassuk, Browne, and Buckner 1996; Bassuk et al. 1996; Brooks and Buckner 1996; Miranda and Green 1999).

African Americans and Native Americans also have higher rates of mental health conditions compared to whites. However, some researchers argue that most of these differences can be attributed to disparities in socioeconomic status (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1999). There are fewer differences in the rates of mental disorders between whites and other ethnic groups.

Though there are few differences in the overall rates of mental illness between men and women, women are more prone to certain mental health conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety disorders (Ulbrich et al. 1989, McLeod and Kessler 1990, Turner et al. 1995, Miranda and Green 1999). It is estimated that the rate of depression among women is 1.5 to 3 times the rate among men (Lennon et al. 2001).

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