An Overview of Mental Health in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
The city of Tuscaloosa is the fifth-largest in the state of Alabama. It is the seat of the centrally-located Tuscaloosa County, with an estimated population of just over 100,000 according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data. That survey also revealed other notable factors potentially influencing mental wellness in the region, including above-average rates of those living in poverty and those without health insurance.
A reported 23.9% of Tuscaloosa’s population lives below the poverty line, compared to a United States average of 12.3%. The uninsured segment of the city is estimated at 11.5%, also higher than the national figure of 10.2%. These numbers can indicate both an elevated rate of mental health issues in the area, as well as an insufficient ability to address them via professional services.
The Link Between Poverty and Depression
Poverty and poor health are often directly linked, a connection that certain applies when it comes to mental health. A 2012 survey assembled by Gallup estimates a nearly doubled rate of depression suffered by those living in poverty (30.9% versus 15.8% in the non-impoverished population).
Further, the study suggests that living below this financial threshold can place a person or family at greater risk of numerous physical health conditions. Reported rates of asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and heart attack risk were all found to be 2-5% higher than the rest of the population on average.
Fewer persons covered by health insurance likely exacerbates these problems, making it difficult for a larger portion of the population to seek the care they need.
Impact of Prescription Opioids
While a lack of health insurance can contribute to negative mental conditions, other risks can arise for those who seek medical treatment for chronic physical pain. This is due to the recent trend of patients misusing prescribed painkillers, a dangerous behavior that could result in chemical dependency or even life-threatening overdose.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse revised a study in March of 2018, finding that 21-29% of patients misused opioids recommended for chronic pain management. Of particular concern for those in and around Tuscaloosa are findings by the Associated Press (AP) that Alabama ranks highest in the United States in terms of opioid use overall.
As of 2015, the national average of opioid prescriptions per person stood at 0.71. By comparison, Alabama’s state average was estimated at 1.2 per person, or a total of nearly 6 million prescriptions in the state as a whole, according to the AP joint investigation.
While prescription drugs are certainly not the sole, and perhaps not even foremost chemical threat, it must be noted that dependency and depression do frequently go hand in hand. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America advises that about one in five persons suffering from mood or mental disorders also battle substance abuse problems as well.
Demographics and Depression in Tuscaloosa
Another point of interest from the 2017 U.S. Census Survey is Tuscaloosa’s demographic divide; the city is made up primarily of Caucasian (52.2%) and African-American (43.3%) residents. While specific figures are not readily available to specify which of the two segments suffers more frequently from mental health problems, there are facts worth noting:
- The African-American community comprises the majority of those living in poverty, with a 53.8% share according to five-year African Community Survey data for the state of Alabama.
- Wages were found to be nearly 1.5 times higher for those who reported as white versus those in the black community during 2016.
- Shortcomings in the workforce were reflected in the education sector as well, with higher rates of high school and college graduation among whites versus those for blacks.
Economic disparities are certainly not unique to Tuscaloosa or the state of Alabama. However, any region where the minority community makes up a large portion of the population is potentially more susceptible to the effects of poor mental health per capita.