Research Finds Link Between Women on Welfare and Substance Abuse
In 1996, U.S. welfare reform legislation was created that imposed a five-year limit on financial support for families with children younger than 18. This legislation is causing concerns as research is showing that there are intense mental health vulnerabilities for low-income families headed by women.
Judith A. Cook, Ph.D.,of the University of Illinois at Chicago and colleagues surveyed 333 urban single mothers and found that 61 percent of the women had a psychiatric or substance abuse disorder during their lifetime. Another 46.8 percent had at least one disorder in the 12 months before the interview.
In the general U.S. population, these rates tend to be much lower. The women in the study were more than twice as likely to be depressed and prevalence of anxiety disorders was 60 percent higher. Drug abuse estimates among the women in the study were five times higher and alcohol abuse and dependence estimates were nearly three times higher.
"These results confirm what has long been suspected on the basis of earlier research, namely, mothers of young children remaining on TANF near the end of their lifetime eligibility face significant behavioral health challenges within the context of poverty, single parenthood and low human capital in the way of formal education and job skills," the authors wrote in their report.
Even with this high prevalence, many of these women go untreated. In fact, only 21.7 percent of those with psychiatric disorders in the previous 12 months received treatment. At the same time, 41.4 percent of those with 12-month substance abuse disorders received treatment.
Authors of this study suggest that the Welfare Board take a closer look at these findings and others like them to determine if current legislation is putting these women at a higher risk.