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The Connection Between Poverty and Mental Health Problems Essay

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Updated: Aug 20th, 2019


Poverty is linked to various health problems affecting an individual. According to Canadian Mental Health Association (2009) people living in severe poverty conditions are susceptible to the increased rate of mental health problems. David et al (1996) agrees with the latter assertion by claiming the connection between the health morbidity, and socio-economic weakness is not unique, therefore, a possibility of a person developing mental health problems is normal.

For instance, Canadian Mental Health Association (2009) contends that a person from an economically deprived environment is more likely to experience, injuries, exposure to toxins, prenatal complications and respiratory disease. Among the children, the environment leads to retarded growth and poor dental health problems.

The connection between poverty and mental health problems of an individual has been explained by various authors. Hence, the trend encompasses a developmental linkage with varying definitions of poverty and methods of examining mental health outcomes.

The trend has consistently shown that poverty upholds the stress level in an individual’s life. The daily struggle to earn a daily bread takes a toll on an individual mental health and contributes to mental health problem. Thus, it is easy for a person to have a strong mental health when he/she has material comfort rather than living in poverty.

However, the causes of mental health vary and are complex. Saraceno and Barbui admits that it is difficult to point out poverty alone contributes to mental health problem (1997). Mental illness is a condition which affects all classes of people in the society, and many people who experiences poverty do not have mental illness.

Similarly, a mental problem complicates a person life in gaining a stable employment. Hence, this makes the door of becoming poor to be wide open. For example, in Canada, Canadian Mental Health Association (2009) explains that many homeless people with mental illness are increasing. Besides, many people with mental challenges hold to low paying jobs. Therefore, we can infer that poverty contributes to mental health problems and that mental illness can make it difficult to stay above the poverty line.


The bond between poverty and mental health is not a new idea. Various researchers have expressed arguments to support this assertion. Weich and Lewis (1998) is one of the authors supporting this argument. He notes the connection between the two variables is bi-directional.

First, a person with a low income is more prone to experience poor mental health and poverty contributing or causing mental health. Observationally, a person and neighbourhood shortfall surges the risk of poor mental health. In their studies, Wicks et al (2005) argues the rate of prevalence of chronic psychiatric condition is higher in deprived areas than in areas with sufficient economic background.

Equally, in a research conducted on the older population in Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, the result showed the older people who had a strong cohesion within their neighbourhood reported fewer neighbourhood problems. They had a higher level of mental wellness (Jenkins, 2008).

Whereas, those in deprived neighbourhoods showed more serious mental illness, this suggests that poverty does subscribe to mental illness. Second, people with mental illness are more likely to succumb to poverty once a person is incapacitated his/her personal socio-economic standing falls, or a selective glide occurs.

For example, Canadian Mental Health Association (2009) noted a decline in the social position and financial condition overtime in individuals who had depression problem. In a similar study, the GHQ-28, a multipurpose health questionnaire used to determine psychiatric conditions were used to evaluate a group of individuals born in 1947. The men who were poor recorded mental health problem connected with the descending socio-economic arc over their entire life than in women.

Being mentally challenged poses a challenge on individual ability to earn. A person with mental health problem is more likely to be discriminated at work than a medically fit person. According to Wilkinson and Pickett (2006) a person with a general mental problem is four to five times likely to be rejected for employment.

He/she is also twice likely to be on income support system and four to five times likely to receive invalidity reimbursement in contrast to the larger population. Besides, people with a psychotic problem have four chances of securing employment (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2006). People with mental health problems may also have inferior or weaker social networks and educational achievements.

It is more exigent to get a job when a person is mentally challenged. This is because of the social stigma attached to the illness. Wicks et al (2005) notes that studies have shown that most employers are reluctant to employ people with mental problems at any level in their organizations.

Hence, individuals without medical complications are favoured to those with mental or physical disabilities. An individual with mental disability encounters a greater difficulty in regard to retaining a job. This is because; he/she may need unpredictable and intermittent time off the work when the disease needs acute treatment (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2006). Employers may consider this as unreliability and cast doubts on the individual potential while working.

People who use the mental health services cite that personal finances are is a serious issue affecting their daily lives. Hence, according to Weich and Lewis (1998) one out of three people suffering from mental illness is likely to be in debt. Concerns and anxieties about personal finance mount to a significant stressor to an individual in many ways. First, the financial strain is regarded by many researchers as a good predictor of future psychiatric morbidity.

This is more than unemployment or poverty. However, the nature of this threat and its association with unemployment and poverty has not been fixed coherently (Weich and Lewis, 1998). Second, Jenkins et al (2008) in his research in the UK showed the link between poverty and mental illness was coined around debt.

A cross-sectional premeditated illustrated that people with low-income were susceptible to mental illnesses. However, this connection was significantly attenuated after the debt was adjusted. According to Jenkins, an individual with six or more distinct debt had about the six-fold increase in mental illness after their income was adjusted (2008).

As on physical ill health, major general mental problems are linked with poor material standards of living and autonomous of working social class (Weich and Lewis, 1998). He contends the gap between those living comfortable lifestyles and those living in poverty has increased during the last few decades in the UK. This has created a cardinal health risk besides raising the issue of social justice in the society (Ford et al, 2004).

A study in the UK extracting evidence on a population supported the theory that higher income inequality was connected with lower standards of population health (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2006). In the United States, Olson suggests the income and income inequality is the crowning issue affecting the infant health outcome. Hence, the health of the poor infants is affected by absolute wealth rather than comparative wealth (2010).

The social decline support connected with mental illness has declined over the years in most countries. Hence, this has compelled many social researchers to explore the mental health of young people who still depend on their parents for their support and maintenance. According to surveys conducted on families earning low incomes, Ford et al noted there is increasing proportion of mental health problems in these families compared to those families which have better household income (2004).

The difference is worse in boys with a double risk. This risks involve varying social patterns of mental related illnesses such as; attention deficit, bed-wetting, hyperactivity disorder and self-harming behaviours. However, Ford et al found out that none of the studied variables was connected with all major types of disorders.

These disorders included; the conduct disorders were tied to family variables and the life events, and poor general health were because of emotional disorders. More interestingly, Wicks et al (2005) argues that children who have been brought up in difficult financial environment, when the graduate into adulthood, the experience mental health disorders, termed as adult poverty.

He connects this declaration to a Swedish study where a study showed the risk of developing a psychoses increase with an increased exposure to measures of social deprivation in childhood. These adversities are based on the low-income status, rented accommodation, unemployment, social welfares and single parenthood.

Mental disorder in itself is a key reason to child poverty. About 1.25 million in Canada lives with caregivers or parents with a mental health disorder (Saraceno and Barbui, 1997). Owing to the over- representation of unemployment and benefits reliance among those with mental disorder, it is estimated that about 370,000 are likely to live in financial hardships.

An individual abusing drugs or alcohol is likely to experience a social decline. Abusing substances drains an individual’s finances and renders a person unemployable besides linking a person to criminal activities or behaviour.

Although there is evidence to link substance abuse directly to mental illness, it is remarkable to find out there exist a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse (Saraceno and Barbui, 1997). Hence, substance abuse causes the mental illness because it makes a person to engage in “self-medication” with alcohol and illicit drugs.

The aetiology of mental illness is undeniably multimodal. Many social scientists researchers have put forward arguments on its connection to poverty. Thus, poverty in itself is neither necessary nor sufficient to translate to mental illness, and the impact of social problem may also be distinct for different kinds of mental illness problems.

An individual living in poverty experiences and chronic stress, perhaps, this might serve as an essential biological impact on brain function. This is crucial especially if a person experienced a certain amount of key points in life during his/her growth and development. According to Olson et al (2010) schizophrenia result to chronic experience of social failure that disturbs the dopaminergic working of the brain. Hence, we can deduce that poverty plays a significant role in creating mental illness in people.

References List

Canadian Mental Health Association (2009) CMHA, National supports Senate report on poverty, housing and homelessness: Report addresses mental health issues. Web.

David, R., and Offord et al. (1996). “One-Year Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorder in Ontarians 15 to 64 Years of Age. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, (41), 9, pp. 559- 63.

Ford, T., Goodman, R., and Meltzer, H., (2004) The relative importance of child, family, school and neighbourhood correlates of childhood psychiatric disorder. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, (39),6, pp.487-96.

Jenkins, R., Bhugra, D., and Bebbington, P., (2008) Debt, income and mental disorder in the general population. Psychol Med, (38),10, pp.1485-93

Olson, M.E., Diekema, D., and Elliott, B.A., (2010) Impact of income and income inequality on infant health outcomes in the United Pediatrics. Epub. (126), 6,pp.1165-73.

Saraceno, B., and Barbui, C., (1997) Poverty and Mental Illness. Canadian Journal of Pyschatry, (42), 3,285-290

Weich, S., and Lewis, G., (1998) Poverty, unemployment, and common mental disorders: Population Based Cohort Study. BMJ, (11), 317, pp.115-9.

Wicks, S., Hjern, A., and Gunnell, D., (2005) Social adversity in childhood and the risk of developing psychosis: a national cohort study. Am J Psychiatry. (162), 9, pp.1652-7

Wilkinson, R.G., and Pickett, K.E., (2006) Income inequality and population health: A Review and Explanation of the Soc Sci Med, (62), 7, pp. 1768-84.

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