Five Reasons for the Link Between Poverty and Mental Health
Poverty and mental health are inextricably tied for a myriad of reasons. A report published by the World Health Organization suggests that poor individuals are twice as affected by mental health conditions compared to rich individuals. The most important reasons for this stark inequality are outlined below.

  1. Destitute living conditions:
    Poverty often results in an inability to afford basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter. This can result in poor living conditions and in some situations, homelessness, when individuals cannot afford rent or mortgage expenses. The uncertainty associated with living in unstable environments can often elicit a lot of stress, which can predispose individuals to mental health conditions such as depression. Poor standards of living can be addressed through aid provided by developed countries and increased public expenditure on necessary facilities such as schools, hospitals and transport systems.
  2. Stress over prolonged periods of time:
    In 2011, information published by the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study revealed that generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by anxiety over non-specific things, was most prevalent in the poorest individuals of a particular sample population. Mothers, especially in developing countries, are constantly plagued by worry about their children’s safety, nutrition and physical and social development. Despite their worries, they are compelled to make ends meet and continue to provide for their families by cooking food, cleaning the house and ensuring utility bills are paid in a timely manner.Access to services that guide women on proper care and upbringing of children can address the affects of excessive stress on children. The government can also play a role in supporting households by providing subsidies and grants for education and discounts for health care. This is a major factor in the link between poverty and mental health.
  3. Unhealthy consumption habits:
    The effects of poverty are compounded by a multitude of problems such as homelessness, debt, risk of violence, increased rates of illness and loss of social standing and self-esteem. These problems can take a severe toll on an individual, resulting in self-harming habits such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, drug abuse and consumption of fast food, which is often more affordable than healthier alternatives. An alarming statistic states that approximately 33 percent of individuals suffering from poverty smoke compared to a significantly less 20 percent of individuals who are not poor.Unhealthy habits can be resolved through campaigns educating individuals about the importance of healthy eating and the negative health consequences of smoking and alcohol consumption.
  4. Insufficient access to health care services:
    Individuals suffering from poverty typically have insufficient financial resources, preventing access to affordable health care services. This prevents them from seeking help early, which may result in progression of their mental health affliction.Poor populations can be encouraged to access health care services through subsidies and increased distribution of local clinics, which make it possible to receive this care without having to travel over long distances. Regular monitoring and sampling for mental health conditions in impoverished societies is also of critical importance.
  5. Diminished attention towards the needs of children:
    Working individuals living in poor households are likely to be preoccupied with several concerns such as debt, stress from work and even relationships with their partner. These stresses may take away attention from the growth and development of their children, leading to adverse effects on the mental health of these children. It is estimated that depression has a prevalence of 0.4 to 2 percent in children ages 6 to 12 years. Parenting training programs and reliable child care services can help children living in poor conditions receive the care they need.

While the relationship between poverty and mental health is complicated, individual measures taken to reduce global poverty are likely to have positive impacts on mental health issues in underprivileged populations.

Tanvi Ambulkar

Photo: Flickr