We talk on the issue with Dr. Herbert Smitherman Jr., he is the Assistant Dean of Community and Urban Health for the Wayne State University School of Medicine. He’s also a member of the Detroit Wayne County Community Mental Health Agency Board.
Doctor Smitherman, does this surprise you that more people are dying at their own hand than from auto accidents?
When we see downturns in the economy, when you see society or country actually at war and the troops are transitioning back and forth between war zones and the general community, you see in those times high suicide rates. It didn’t surprise me, especially with respect to the auto industry traffic measures across the country that are really helping to address a lot of accidents, especially deadly. And our response time to those accidents and getting people the emergent care they need really save a lot of lives. Safety initiatives are really broadening in this country. So the traffic fatality going down is not unexpected. I would say just because of the downsides in the economy and the stress on families within our society I think it didn’t surprise me.
One of the things that you do there is you consider the mental health of the entire Detroit Wayne County Community there. Can you give us a snapshot? The rest of the country knows well that Detroit is, some would argue, pretty much ground zero for what is happening to the American economy these days. And I imagine that the mental health of the community at large would very well represent what happens when a community loses its major industry and many people experience prolonged unemployment.
Well, yeah. We’re seeing major depression and rates of it increase. We’re seeing especially life stress issues and people coming into their providers for life-stress issues, be it losing a home, divorce, losing one’s job and the financial social stress they cause. We’re seeing a dramatic spike in health concerns within our community, definitely.
Hm-Hm. What about the children of people who have lost their jobs or homes?
The poverty rates for children are going up. And the stress that this cause on family structures again is significant. We have one out of eight children that go hungry every day in the US and clearly those things are creating significant stress on our kids in lots of ways – people acting out in school, issues of obesity, higher rates of behavioral issues in the classroom etc. Yes, we’re seeing all of these things play out within out city as we struggle with some of the national issues of increased unemployment, joblessness and heightened foreclosure rates that are really devastating for families and communities.