In talking about minimum wage and arguing for or against raising it, mental health is rarely a topic that is addressed. Mental health and the ability to have resources that support mental health are not woven into the dialogue. There is some reference to the impact that working class jobs have on the psyche of workers in certain works such as that of Barbara Ehrenreich, where she describes the humiliating and manipulating tactics that businesses use in hiring workers. But in the overall discourse, mental health is erased.
Here are some points of thought I would like to include on the topic of minimum wage and mental health:
1. What happens when your insurance (assuming that you are even able to afford one) does not provide for mental health services and you are unable to afford to pay out of pocket?
2. What happens when the doctors or resources you can access are so severely limited that you are never sure whether or not your next visit will be covered?
3. What happens when the hours that most centers and psychologists coincide with the 50+ hours you work to pay rent, food and other basic necessities? When missing work to get mental health services means being unable to pay rent?
4. What happens when the stress of having to literally survive on minimum wage combines with psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder?
5. What happens when you go to school, work a minimum wage job and are turned away from the school’s psychological center because you have insurance and that means that you can access services ‘elsewhere’?
Mental health is so low on our society’s priority list that most of these questions are never addressed. Yet aside from the stigma and discrimination that the erasure of this topic perpetuates, it is also dehumanizing. By not caring about the mental and emotional well-being of individuals and reducing them to a question of whether or not they are able to ‘survive’ on minimum wage, we are dehumanizing individuals.