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Painted Brain | The Digital Divide And Mental Health
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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  • February 11, 2015

The Digital Divide and Mental Health

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 MI 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 MI 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 any or most communities, whether they be rural communities, entire 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 are left behind.


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 inherently 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, 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 mistake to say that psychological barriers are unavoidable, that there’s nothing much that can be done about it, and that low computer literacy should be the norm. There are many barriers affecting people with mental illness, 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 MI.

Lack of affordability: the monthly income of those living in board and care institutions (where the majority of people with MI 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.

How Computer Literacy and Internet Access can help the mentally ill

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.

Why we must close the digital divide for Improved Mental Health Care

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.

Kazuhito Naruse is a webdeveloper for The Painted Brain and a frequent contributor to Painted Brain News

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  • Editorial

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