We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming, Today is Blog Action Day, and bloggers around the world are writing posts focused on a single topic.  The goal of the event is to change the conversation on the web and generate attention to a global issue.  Each year the topic changes, and this year it concerns food.  
 
It took me awhile to come up with a good connection between food and mental health policy.  There are a lot of 'snake oil' supplements and diets on the market that purportedly soothe the symptoms of brain disorders, but most of them don't have any peer-reviewed data to back them up.  I have watched other families--close friends, even--sink hundreds of dollars on 'natural' cures, which don't seem to do much beyond raising their hopes and lightening their wallets.  
 
A study released three months ago by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that obesity rates were more than 33% for adults who made less than $15,000 a year, but only 24.6% for those making $50,000+ a year.  Many critics have argued that this disparity is due to ignorance and/or a preference for unhealthy food.  Ellyn Satter, a registered dietician and social worker, has written an excellent article debunking such myths.  In response to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, she created a 'Hierarchy of Food Needs' explaining why sometimes other needs come first:

Journal of Nutrition Education & Behavior, 2007

Then I thought about an email I had received two years ago from my cousin's wife.  It read, "We saw your mom briefly today. She spoke very briefly to me. Is she on medication? She looks like she has put on a lot of weight, especially around the face and neck. (I think that is why I am associating it with medication.) I probably would not have recognized her if she hadn't recognized me and said something. I recognized her voice before I recognized her face."

For the past five years, my only relationship with my mother has been through third-person accounts like the one above.  (Mom #2 decided that she didn't want to be my mom anymore, which is an entirely different story.)  One of the known side-effects for antipsychotic medications is weight gain, so it was certainly plausible.  The only problem is that two-thirds of people with schizophrenia are living without treatment, and my mother is no exception.  So, I wrote her back, thanked her for her concern, and explained that the weight gain that had rendered her unrecognizable was likely due to lack of access to nutritional food.   

Like many living with schizophrenia, my mother is unemployed (and, in her current state, unemployable).  She lives in public housing, receives food stamps, and makes frequent trips to the local food bank.  And, like many people in her economic position, she doesn't have the luxury of eating as many healthy, unprocessed foods.  Overstressed food banks are pressured to provide quantity over quality, which tends to favor more items with empty calories.  The recession has only made this situation worse.  

Food quality is one of the factors that contribute to the additional health complications associated with schizophrenia.  Approximately 60% of those with the disease will die prematurely from heart disease, diabetes, or other conditions.  Many report trouble seeking help for other physical ailments because of lack of health care access and the unwillingness of doctors to take other medical complaints seriously to begin with.  This is a small example of how piecemeal approaches and halfhearted stopgaps are seemingly hurting more than they are helping. 

Because I live in a different state and she inhabits an alternate state of reality, there is little I can do to address the health concerns my cousin's wife raised.  The government has mandated that she has the right to refuse treatment, even when her illness has impaired her physical ability to comprehend what is happening to her.  While this would never happen to someone with Alzheimer's who decided to wander in traffic, there is still a ludicrous legal distinction when it comes to my own parent's brain disorder.  I have a lot of strong feelings about this, but today I am going to keep things simple.  Okay, government: you broke it, you bought it.  The least you could do is feed her decently.
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