An Overview of Mental Health in Merced, California
Merced, California is the seat of the county that bears its name. Estimates from the year 2014 put the population at 81,743. Merced was incorporated as a charter city in 1889. Geographically, it is located in the San Joaquin Valley near the banks of the Merced River for which it is named.
Nearly half of the population of Merced, 49.6 percent, identifies as Hispanic, while 30 percent identify as white, 11.5 percent identify as Asian, 5.7 percent identify as black, and 2.4 percent identify as two or more races. Only one-half percent identify as American Indian.
An Overview of Mental Health in Merced
Merced County was one of the highest ranked in California for the average number of mentally unhealthy days reported over a 30-day period. The statewide average was 3.5 days of poor mental health out of 30, while the average for Merced County was 4.3. A majority of “key informants” in Merced County (63.2 percent) consider mental health to be a major problem, in part due to the fact that, compared with 76.6 percent nationwide, only 66.3 percent of adults diagnosed with depression in Merced have sought professional help.
Factors Affecting Mental Health in Merced, California
Some of the most significant factors affecting mental health in Merced are economic factors. Merced was hit hard by the recession of 2008. For example, the number-nine top employer in Merced in 2010 was AT&T Mobility, which closed its call center in 2014, reducing its total employment in Merced to one-fifth of what it had been before.
The most current information available suggests that Merced has not yet recovered from the economic blow it was dealt approximately ten years ago. Per capita income in Merced is only $19,340. The estimated median household income in 2016 was $41,312, compared with $67,739 per year for all of California, and while the median value for a house or condo in California in 2016 was $477,500, home values in Merced were less than half that at $215,400.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control suggest that not only did the 2008 recession have a significant economic impact on the people of Merced but a strong impact on mental health as well. The suicide rate in Merced increased sharply between 2008 and 2011 compared with the rates for the United States and California, which remained largely unchanged, and has yet to return to pre-recession levels.
Depression is one of the foremost mental health concerns in Merced. At some clinics, as many as 80 percent of patients have been screened for depression. Demographic groups that are particularly vulnerable include women and people ages 40-64. Across various income levels and ethnicities, more Merced residents exhibited symptoms of depression than received a diagnosis. There is also a disparity among different ethnicities and income levels as to how symptoms of depression manifest. White people and people earning a relatively high income were more likely to carry a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, while Latino residents and/or those earning a lower income were more likely to exhibit symptoms of chronic depression, which is less severe than major depressive disorder but may persist for two years or more.
Challenges Involved in Finding a Therapist in Merced
Despite mental health being acknowledged as a major problem in Merced, there are fewer mental health service providers available. Between 2013 and 2014, the mental health service capacity in Merced dropped by 4335 providers/locations, from 48,462 to 44,127, a decrease of 8.9%.
Approximately 52 percent of Merced residents speak a language other than English at home, and finding a therapist fluent in a language other than English and/or Spanish may pose some difficulty.
Mental Health Resources in Merced
Despite the challenges, there is still help available for those seeking mental health services in Merced. Merced County has a department of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, offering a variety of programs, which are available 24/7, to adults, youth, children, and families on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. In addition to staff who speak Spanish and several Southeast Asian languages, the department can provide interpreter services at no cost to the consumer for other languages, including sign language. There is also an active chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Merced that lists resources related to urgent mental health matters on its website.