Marginalized Populations

The social revolution of the 1970s coined the word “marginalized” to describe the experiences of those who live on the fringe of mainstream America.  Such persons are systematically excluded from full participation in the American dream and consequently lack the self-efficacy to improve their life situation.  In the end, society pays the costs when people encounter barriers to achieving their potential.  The term marginalized has expanded from originally referring to minorities and persons from poverty, to include a long list of cultures and populations.  Here is a sample of the most common marginalized groups:

  • GLBT
  • Senior citizens
  • Racial/Cultural minorities
  • Military Combat Veterans
  • Persons of below average intelligence
  • Hearing, visually, and Physically  Challenged Persons
  • Persons with a serious and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI)
  • Persons with Cognitive Impairments
  • Gamblers and Substance Abusers
  • Autism Spectrum Persons
  • Gifted and Talented Persons
  • Persons with disfigurements
  • Persons Living in Poverty
  • Sex Offenders
  • The Homeless
  • Felons

While this is only a listing of those most commonly referred to as marginalized, there are other individual people who just do not fit into mainstream culture, and suffer the same consequences. Such persons are all around us but virtually invisible…unless they cause problems or disrupt the lifestyles of mainstream persons.

Significant disparities exist for marginalized people in every aspect of their lives such as health care, employment, legal rights under the law, housing, and access to services. They are often the silent and invisible victims of discrimination, violence, social stigma, and assault. Sometimes they are abused by bullies and predators or exploited and mistreated by caregivers, family, neighbors, friends, acquaintances, and professionals.

Those of us who feel a sense of personal empowerment in our lives may see the marginalized as being somewhere or someplace else, and not within our living circle. The marginalized are very skilled in keeping a low profile.  They have been repeatedly hurt, and aware of the stereotypes applied to their group.  They are all around us, right in our community, on the job, or residing in our own homes. They are our children, siblings, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and partners. Everyone I know has a marginalized person within their network.  We are all guaranteed that over our lifespan we will all have physical, mental, and emotional issues that will make us a marginalized person as well. None of us are immune from injury, disease, mental illness, and changes due to aging.

An example from my own life was being a very healthy and strong sixty-year-old three years ago, and then having a potential life-threatening event occur every year since then.  I am now doing well and absolutely grateful for the blessings and people who took over and sustained me during the difficult times.  I am aware that I am a privileged person who had the resources to get the care I needed, and have a new appreciation for the human struggle and my obligation to others.

Marginalized people exist in all places including rural, suburban, and urban areas. They cross all socio-economic, racial, religious, lifestyle, and cultural groups. All of us share in the equal opportunity of our lives changing despite having an education, money, beauty, and success.

In urban areas marginalized people have some identified options. There are funded resources such as community agencies, medical clinics, therapists, advocates, protective and legal services. In addition, there are identified role models, empowering peer groups, and family resources.  However, many people in the Twin Cities are still underserved.

In rural and small town communities, resources are limited or require travel to another town or urban center. Persons with special needs may feel more of a sense of isolation as there may not be any identified peers or role models. It is also more of a challenge to avoid scrutiny and stigma, as there are fewer gathering places, common family values, and community behaviors to adhere to.  Privacy and confidentiality become critical in seeking help. They often suffer in silence under perceived social pressure to conform, and begin to resort to harmful behaviors.   Families usually do not know what to do as this is a new and seemingly unsolvable issue, with potential community shame and consequences.   

In response to the need for training with special underserved groups, the Rural & Greater Division of MPA is sponsoring a national conference on, “Working with Marginalized Rural Populations.”  Save the date for October 21, 2016. This conference will be relevant to all psychologists, and an inexpensive way to earn up to seven CE’s. Participants can attend via individual Webcast, a group Webcast site, or on-site at the UM-Morris.

There will be very interesting perspectives presented from over two hundred attendees, across seven U.S. time zones, including the states of Alaska and Hawaii. You may also have expertise in counseling one of the marginalized groups and should contact me if you have a poster or wish to present. Stay tuned to the MPA website for more information or call Willie Garrett at 651-493-2707.

Willie Garrett, Ed.D., is a child-adolescent psychologist who practices in Roseville, Minnesota. He is a long-term member of MPA and the Minnesota Association of Black Psychologists and is Chair of the MPA Rural & Greater Minnesota Division.





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