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

Also published on The Huffington Post.

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 It contains helpful definitions of terms, historical references about the evolution of psychology particularly as it has dealt with emotional health and depression and quotes from professionals in the field of mental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 low-cost 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?

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