Homelessness Myth #21: They’re All Happy-Go-Lucky

by on November 17, 2011 · 26 comments

in Health, Homelessness, Popular

Some housed people believe that homeless people don’t have a care in the world. They think that because many homeless people don’t appear to work, that life on the streets is carefree. Truly, nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that homeless people have extremely challenging lives for a host of reasons, some obvious, some not so obvious. Sometimes, many times, these challenges, be they physical, mental and/or spiritual, feel overwhelming to homeless people. Without resources to get help, many homeless people succumb to the pressure of these challenges and are anything but “happy-go-lucky.”

However, this myth is, perhaps unwittingly, perpetuated even by highly educated and presumably kind-hearted individuals. Take for example, these sentences:

“In my experience, the more people have, the less likely they are to be contented. Indeed there is abundant evidence that depression is a ‘disease of affluence.’”

When I read these sentences in the excerpt, “Don’t Let Chaos Get You Down” in Newsweek double issue, November 7 & 14, 2011 page 9 from Dr. Andrew Weil’s new book, Spontaneous Happiness, I thought, “Really?”

I immediately felt compelled to go out and buy the book. But not for the reason you may think. I just had to learn whether the excerpt accurately reflected what Dr. Weil intended to say in his book or whether these sentences were somehow taken out of context.

In my experience, homeless people have very few material possessions and are not content. In fact, I have found that many homeless people suffer greatly from depression. In the words of a homeless friend of mine, “All homeless people are depressed.”

I found Spontaneous Happiness to be quite interesting. It contains helpful definitions of terms, historical references about the evolution of psychology particularly as it has dealt with emotional health and depression and quotes from professionals in the field of mental health. I learned a lot from reading this book.

In Chapter 8 of the book, Dr. Weil presents his program to help people attain “optimum emotional well-being.” In his introduction to this program, Dr. Weil writes, “Feel free to proceed through the program at your own pace, taking as much time as you need with the assignments… [I]n my experience, it takes at least eight weeks to realize the effects of lifestyle changes on health, both physical and emotional.”

However, throughout the read, I kept asking myself, but what about people who are homeless? These people have little or nothing. Presumably, they can’t even afford the book. How can they deal with depression?

Truly, I don’t intend to put Dr. Weil or his fine book down. I’ve even recommended his book to one of my friends to whom I thought the book might be of interest. It’s just that I believe that the book was intended to be purchased, read and utilized by affluent people, at least by people affluent enough to be able to afford the book.

But what about unhoused people? Where are the books written specifically for them to help them meet their need to overcome depression? And how can they afford these books? And would eight weeks be sufficient to help them achieve “optimum emotional well-being?”

I don’t know the answers to these questions. There may be pamphlets on depression available at low-cost and/or free health clinics, but books? If there are such books, how many of them are available at a price that homeless people can afford? In other words, are these books available to homeless people for lowcost or free? And how would homeless people find these books?

Of course, I am presuming that some, many or all homeless people want books to help them overcome their depression. I believe that generally few people want to stay in pain. Further, it is my understanding that depression can be very painful.

If books can present tools to help housed people alleviate their depression, why can’t books help unhoused people alleviate their depression? Therefore, I believe that some, many or all depressed homeless people would benefit from and want books to help them overcome their depression.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have books that could help all people suffering from depression, not just affluent people?

Dr. Weil, can we talk?

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar malcolm migacz November 17, 2011 at 10:58 am

“The Doctor is out. We will get back to soon as we can. Leave a message” BEEP.
” Hello Doctor , Can I address you concerning your expensive book? Can you include a workable solution to end depression for the homeless,” EMAIL.

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avatar Christine Schanes November 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Malcolm,

Thanks for your comment.

You are amazing – how did you know the book is expressive? It is over $20 in hard back. The soft back is not out yet. I presume it will be more affordable.

I hope I hear form the good doctor. Better still, maybe we can meet and talk about homelessness.

I’m genuinely sorry that any one is depressed. But certainly, everyone deserves relief from depression – whether they are rich or poor.

I’m looking forward to talking with Dr. Weil.

Please keep in touch.

Christine

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avatar malcolm migacz November 18, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Please excuse my previous comment , as comprehension of your article still alludes me , do not take this as any indication that your writing style lacks the three C’s of writing . This current message will not be an improvement, as my reading comprehension skills are deficient, and therefore this message will lack any real relation to your article. The high price of the book of which you review I surmised by both my recent book shopping excursions and the information gained from your article , such as statement you wrote, in this single instance I refer to : ….’at least by people affluent enough to be able to afford the book.’ I would like to collaborate with you concerning this often overlooked item ‘Price’ displayed on the back of today’s literary marvels. I am in the planning stage of my latest literary endeavor the title being “How to Stop Reading Books” . Our collaboration would consist of a small chapter dedicated to : ‘Price per priceless idea’ . Ideally, this research cost should not not significantly increase the production of said book beyond a factor of 1/10 of total production cost. We could have a tête-à-tête , in French, if that would improve communication, as you indicated we should meet and discuss homelessness ( as defined by the “United States Code”) . I feel I am well versed in the subject and I might be able to enlighten you. My being homeless for the 10 previous consecutive years has given me first hand experience. I look forward to your response. I would at this time usually include a quote that i enjoy to end my communication on a good note, but I choose to quote your source , “All homeless people are depressed.”

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avatar Christine Schanes November 18, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Malcolm,

Thanks for your comment.

By the way, no need to ignore your first comment. I thought it was funny and brought a big smile to my face. In that article and in this article, you certainly display a gift for clarity and humor.

So I do need to learn from you. Please share what you understand to be the three “C”s of writing are. Thanks!

I hope that you will keep in touch.
Christine

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avatar malcolm migacz November 18, 2011 at 9:45 pm

The three “C”‘s of writing, if I remember correctly from a class on effective communication , that I was forced to attend in the year 1984 of our lord. Were : cachexic, cachinnate and cacodemomania. As the years have progressed , along with my complete disbelief that communication can or ever will be effective, has given me the freedom from learning if these were indeed the real 3 “C”s. I include now another quote “The only real language in the world is in a kiss”. I hope it’s French.

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avatar Christine Schanes November 19, 2011 at 8:54 am

Hi, Malcolm,

Thanks for your email.

It’s very impressive that you took an effective communication class. I’ve been doing my best to communicate the hard way – step by step. But, just doing my best.

Please stay in touch,
Christine

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avatar Brenda McFarlane November 19, 2011 at 8:51 am

Thanks Malcolm, you got me curious and I had to look up the three “C’s of writing.
Clear: Does your message convey in distinct and certain terms what you want the reader to do or feel? A clear message is easily understood; there is no ambiguity.
Concise: Is your message to the point? Have you conveyed your thoughts in the fewest words?
Correct: Does your message conform to standard rules of grammar? Do you use words, verb tenses, sentence structure and punctuation in a way that ensures understanding?

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avatar Christine Schanes November 19, 2011 at 10:23 am

Thanks for your helpful research, Brenda!

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avatar jim grant November 18, 2011 at 9:52 am

I was wonder as I read this: Several years ago when the homeless sticker came out and the news media was in Ocean Beach filming the confrontations at The Black , there were Community meetings all over Ocean beach …There were roundtable discussions trying to find solutions to homelessness in OB and all over San Diego.
There was hundreds of comments, remarks and statements made on this very blog concerning homelessness….it seems to me that nothing has really happened or did I miss it?
There was talk of a shelter, an outreach center, a comfort station or A bathroom….
I was at the wall several days ago and counted 26 young adults who looked to be homeless……
Christine I remember you being very involved in this issue can you offer any updates on what has happened since that sticker came out and all the OB drama ? tks

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avatar Christine Schanes November 18, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Hi, Jim,

Thanks for your comment

I will tell you what I know and what I did. I know that a report was issued with a summary of what happened and the comments made at the meeting.

What I did was I wrote “Breaking News” and a follow-up story both for The Huffington Post. I was not writing for the OB Rag at the time, otherwise you might have read my thoughts here. Sorry about that.

However, Frank Gormlie, founder of the OB Rag, was featured prominently in both articles!

I did suggest the word, “Compassion,” as an alternate word for “Tolerance” on the sticker proposed by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. I was grateful when the word, “Compassion,” was used.

Further, at that time, an attorney friend was a presenter at a national conference in Washington, DC. I supplied him with a copy of the Black Sticker which had been given to me and a copies of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless sticker for him to discuss and share with his audience, leaders in the homelessness field.

I guess I’m trying to say that there is a quite a bit each of us as individuals can do.

Please keep in touch.
Christine

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avatar Brenda McFarlane November 19, 2011 at 8:46 am

Jim, I see your point about rountable discussions. I did not stay in touch with the people I met during those break-out sessions, so I don’t know what those people ended up doing. I can only refer to myself as evidence that what you call the “OB drama” changed something, if only my attitudes and actions. I have become much more active in houseless issues than before. For instance, I volunteer with a non-denominational “help the homeless” group now. No big thing but it’s an update of sorts.

I’d be interested in what you’ve been doing or what groups you’ve been involved with to help the houseless situation too?

One thing I wasn’t clear about in your comment: you mention you were “at the wall several days ago and counted 26 young adults who looked to be homeless…” In your opinion, is that more than before or the same? How did you think the comments, remarks and statements on this blog should have changed this? What should it look like and how do we get there from here? If your point is that talk is cheap and we shouldn’t just be talking we should be out there doing too, then I wholeheartedly agree. Let us know what you are actively doing and maybe we can maybe follow your lead.

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avatar Christine Schanes November 19, 2011 at 8:55 am

Brenda,

Thanks for your comment.

Your insights are very helpful. And thank you for sharing your story. And thank you for all you do for other people – housed and unhoused.

Please stay in touch,
Christine

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avatar Jack Hamlin November 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Nothing you would be interested in Jim.

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avatar jim grant November 18, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Really Now Mr. Hamlin . How do you discern that ? You don’t know me what makes YOU think you know what I would be interested in ?
I actually asked Christine the question Mr. Hamlin but thanks for your response.
Ms. Schanes I would be curious to hear what you think has been done over the past months ?
I would also be curious to hear if either You or Mr. Hamlin was present at the Liberty Station Walk on Saturday that Jeff put on ?? It was a fantastic walk that raised a lot of money that went to boots on the ground help for the homeless youth in the San Diego area. Maybe you both were there and I did not see you during the walk or the ceremonies before and after……Anyway looking forward to a response from you !

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avatar Christine Schanes November 18, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Hi, Jim,

Thank you for your comment.

You ask what I think was done over the past months. Well, I mentioned above that a report was issued. I believe that Jack Hamlin wrote the report. But I hope that he will correct me if I’m wrong.

I do think that Jack Hamlin, as the mediator, would know better than I as to what was accomplished as a result of the report.

However, because of Jack’s efforts and the efforts of Frank Gormlie, Patty Jones and the rest of us, the Black sticker certainly got national attention. Presumably, awareness was raised all over the country. That’s truly amazing!

Now all we have to do is end homelessness.

Q: What did you think about Dr. Andrew Weil’s comment, “depression is an affliction of the affluent” which is referred to in this blog post?

I’m interested in your thoughts.

Christine

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avatar jim grant November 18, 2011 at 9:15 pm

A report was issued. The ” sticker ” got National attention. Presumably awareness was raised.
Hummm all that Up ROAR on this very web blog months ago and that is the outcome. Pretty Sad…
Not even a bathroom….Not even a storefront to offer help to the homeless youths or those who want help.
I say OB needs another sticker to bring attention to the homeless crowd again….
I am headed out on a 10 day road trip up the coast I will be checking out other locations and how they deal with the issue of homelessness………

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avatar Brenda McFarlane November 19, 2011 at 8:20 am

A few months ago our Ocean Beach library was threatened with closure (as were others). We seemed to avert the closure for the moment but this article made me think of yet another reason we need to stay vigilant and protect our libraries. When I am feeling depressed, hopeless, confused or have a problem, I have a habit of going to my own large collection of books and searching for encouraging words or insights. I almost always find help and messages from others reminding me of what I have lost touch with (again!). The Library is one of very few self-empowering resources open to houseless people. As it is, our library is only open: Tue-Wed 12:30 pm – 8 pm, Thu 9:30 am – 5:30 pm, Fri 9:30 am – 5 pm, Sat 9:30 am – 2:30 pm.

More directly to your point, Christine, I am certain affluent people get depressed. After all, they are much closer to recognizing that all the work they have done to accumulate “things” means nothing unlike the people still accumulating things because they believe it will make them happy. All I know is that if I had to choose, I’d much rather be depressed and affluent than depressed and living on the street. The thought of being unhoused is one of my greatest fears, just after death, disease, loss of cognitive or physical ability and pain. Oh, and hunger. Thanks for writing and doing your part to find ways to support houseless people! I personally appreciate it because I don’t know where I’ll be in the future, maybe houseless , maybe affluent.

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avatar Christine Schanes November 19, 2011 at 9:09 am

Brenda,

Thank you for your comment.

Let me say that you express your thoughts beautifully. I am moved by your honesty and openness. Your compassionate heart is showing, beaming actually.

I believe that we all feel “down” or “depressed” sometimes. I think that this is part of the condition of being human.

My concern with Dr. Andrew Weil’s book, Spontaneous Happiness, is that he addresses the depression only of affluent people. He is so well-known that I was sorry to read no reference to helping non-affluent people overcome depress.

I am not a psychologist, but it seems to me that those in the profession have some kind of obligation to help those in need. Don’t we all?

Do you agree with me that professionals and/or trained people have a duty to use their expertise to help those in need? I’m interested in your thoughts.

Christine

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avatar jim grant November 19, 2011 at 9:00 am

I have been working with Photo charity, they have raised lots of money and opened storefronts to actually help kids not just write and read reports.

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avatar Brenda McFarlane November 20, 2011 at 7:33 am

That’s awesome Jim. It sound really interesting. I’ll look out for it to find out more. Thanks for you work!

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avatar Citizen Cane November 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Was that quote about depression and affluence in the context of a specific type of depression?

I was just looking at some stats that show women suffering from depression more than men. Sometimes 2 to 1 ratios, but women aren’t twice as likely to be affluent compared to men…right?

http://www.depressionperception.com/depression/depression_facts_and_statistics.asp

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avatar Patty Jones November 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I don’t know the context but would be willing to bet that poor women are twice as likely to be depressed compared to affluent women, they are just undiagnosed and untreated due to their inability to get help.

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avatar Christine Schanes November 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Patty,

Thanks for your comment.

If you have a chance and an interest, I would appreciate it if you would read Spontaneous Happiness by Dr. Weil because I’d love to learn what you think about the book. I for one don’t see any context about the rate of depression in women (or men) in poverty as opposed to women (or men) who are experiencing affluence. That’s what mystifies me about the book.

In Spontaneous Happiness, I found the word “homeless” once in a quote by another author. And there is a quote included in the book from the Dali Lama that a person’s basic needs need to be met.

But other than these two references which are really not addressed by Dr. Weil, I could not find anything about depression in people who are not affluent, be they poor women and men or homeless women or men.

I bought the book because I wanted to find, I hoped to find help for those of us who are poor and homeless. As far as I can tell, the book is directed at helping affluent people who are depressed get over their depression.

I do believe that Dr. Weil feels that “depression is an affliction of the affluent.” And I couldn’t find anything in his book to contradict this statement.

If any one has read Dr. Weil’s book, Spontaneous Happiness, I would appreciate your thoughts on all of this.

And I really would like to hear from Dr. Weil on this topic.
Christine

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avatar Patty Jones November 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I ordered it from the library, it seems pretty popular right now so it may take a while for it to come in. I’m #14 on the waiting list….

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avatar Christine Schanes November 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Hi, Patty,

Thanks for your comment.

And how lovely of you to look into getting the book, Spontaneous Happiness by Dr. Andrew Weil. I really look forward to your thoughts about it.

One reason that the book may be popular is that I have been told that Dr. Weil is promoting the book by giving a talk at UC Santa Barbara.

I really would like to talk with Dr. Weil about his book and helping homeless people, all people, get over depression.

Christine

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avatar Christine Schanes November 20, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Hi Citizen Cane,

Thanks for your comment.

Interesting question you raise. I read the except in Newsweek and then I bought the book, Spontaneous Happiness, and read it. Perhaps I missed it, but I do not remember seeing any specific type of depression mention in the book – with the prominent exception of the specific type of depression that the author, Dr. Andrew Weil himself, reveals that he has had from time to time.

Right now my copy of the book is in a different city, otherwise I would be able to tell you the specific type of depression Dr. Weil has had. Although I am not a mental health professional, I believe that Dr. Weil feels that the type of depression he has had is a milder form of depression or of a more sporadic nature than the depression that he addresses in his book.

But to address your question, in my opinion Dr. Weil’s statement that “depression is an affliction of the affluent” was not put in any context. That’s exactly why I ran out and bought the book. I read this statement in the Newsweek excerpt and thought that the book had to have some kind of modifying language. I couldn’t find anything. I think the sentence is intended to mean what it says.

And I really appreciate your thought that while women are twice as likely to suffer depression than men, they are not twice as likely to be as affluent than men.

Regarding whether women are more affluent than men, here’s what I found.

1. Women comprise more of the poor than men.
A poll conducted for the website, To the Contrary found that “women represent more than 50% of the poor.” Further, it reported, “Two thirds of the 60 million women working outside the home have no pension plan and those who do have benefits receive half the benefits of their male counterparts.” See http://www.pbs.org/ttc/headlines_economics_philanthropy.html

2. Women don’t earn as much as men.
Also Time US found “U.S. women still earned only 77 cents on the male dollar in 2008, according to the latest census statistics. (That number drops to 68% for African-American women and 58% for Latinas.)” See http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1983185,00.html

3. Contrary to popular belief, women do control just over 50% of the wealth in the US.
Again, the To The Contrary poll found “76% of Americans believe that men control more wealth than women. But a new survey of Federal Reserve Board data reveals that women actually control 51.3% of personal wealth in the United States.”
See http://www.pbs.org/ttc/headlines_economics_philanthropy.html

It appears that women are not twice as likely to be affluent compared to men.

Great addition to the discussion – thanks!
Christine

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