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Let’s start by defining mental health.
Mental well-being must be defined as something more than the absence of mental illness; it is defined as a positive mental state that allows individuals and populations to thrive. Mental well-being has been regarded as comprising happiness, contentment, subjective well-being, self-realization, and positive functioning.
The World Health Organization defined mental health as “a state of emotional and social well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can manage the normal stresses of life, can work effectively, and is able to play a role in his or her community” (WHO, 1999)
A digital divide is an economic and social inequality according to categories of persons in a given population in their access to, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technologies (ICT).
Most people living with mental illness express interest in finding and maintaining a job, and their employment has proven to play a vital role in their recovery process and contribute to their overall health and well-being.
(Lauber & Bowen, 2010; Kirsch et al., 2009).
Individuals living with mental illness endure the lowest employment rate of any group of people categorized as having a disability (Lauber & Bowen, 2010).
Mental Illness: Synergy, Stigma and Culture
It shouldn’t be a surprise, given the low statistics of employment among people with MI, that computer illiteracy would be endemic in the same group of people.
Repeated studies show that in communities of any kind the level of computer literacy and internet access are highly correlated with economic opportunity and well-being. These findings apply to most communities, whether they be rural, entirely low-income neighborhoods or groups of people.
The fact that 79% of Americans use the internet doesn’t change the fact that it leaves out the 21% in poor depressed communities (often communities of color) meaning that 1 in every 5 Americans is left behind. Internet use is clearly tied to economic status and education.
For large groups of people – and this is especially true for the mentally ill – they are left on the wrong side of the digital divide. There are inherent psychological barriers that will challenge a person with mental illness that have nothing to do with ability, and are instead limitations that come along with the territory of what it means to be part of a marginalized group of people. These barriers are something that erodes confidence and stunts initiative, both of which are needed for many wishing to pick up a new skill in a very unfamiliar field.
However, it might be a mistake to say that psychological barriers are unavoidable. There are many people affected by these barriers, especially those without family support, or those for whom a disability check each month (a negligible amount by any standard) is their only source of income.
Here are a number of reasons why computer illiteracy disproportionately affects communities of people with mental illnesses.
Lack of affordability: the monthly income of those living in board and care institutions (where the majority of people with mental illness reside), leaves little room to afford Internet access, much less a computer.
Lack of training and resources
Psychological barriers: Many people with mental illness had their education and college careers interrupted and damaged by the onset of mental illness, which is why this group suffers a much higher dropout rate. When educational resources are missing, opportunities for computer training are limited, creating a vicious cycle.
Economic challenges: Some people don’t have any access to the internet or have very limited access, most notably, the disproportionate number of people with mental health problems in hospitals, prisons, on the streets, in low-income households or with additional disabilities.
Many mental health clients live in poverty and lack access to computers, the Internet,
computer literacy training, and therefore to information – including Internet-based health
information, housing or employment opportunities, their personal health
records, and updates on local and State MHSA meetings and events.
Emerging technologies provide the means to overcome geographical distances that often hinder access to care. Health technology and telehealth now offer powerful tools to improve access to mental health care in rural, remote, and other under-served areas.
Kevin Naruse is the Social Media Director for The Painted Brain and a frequent contributor to Painted Brain News. You can visit his blog at kevinnaruse.com
 Mental Illness: Synergy, Stigma and Culture http://paintedbrain.org/editorial/mental-illness-synergy-stigma-and-culture/
 Disconnected, Disenfranchised, and Poor: Addressing Digital Inequality in America https://workingclassstudies.wordpress.com/tag/computer-literacy