Poverty And Mental Health: How The Two Relate
Mental health conditions in the United States affect a significant number of people and are especially found among those individuals with low incomes. Mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, personality disorder, and substance use disorder (SUD) are all mental health conditions. The severity of these conditions differs greatly with some more incapacitating than others. Those individuals with mental health conditions often require services which can range from prescription drugs or outpatient therapy to treatment in an inpatient facility. The problem is that poor mental health and poverty tend to go hand in hand.
Noteworthy Paradox in the United States Today
In the United States today, there remains a noteworthy paradox: the area’s where the greatest need for mental health treatment often has a shortage of mental health providers. Poor mental health and poverty stricken areas need access to better treatment. These areas are the poorest and most remote in the country, and in no way have a shortage of patients. There is an influx of individuals experiencing various mental health conditions on any given day inside mental health clinics located in these areas. While finding a mental health provider in the inner city can be trying, looking for one in poor rural areas can be more challenging. In fact, in many of these rural areas, they have no practicing psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers.
Increase in Psychiatric Disorders with Unemployment
It is clear that many individuals who face extreme poverty have issues with their mental health as well. This is not to say that all those who face poverty will also have a mental illness but there is a strong connection between financial stability and mental health. In fact, the old question of “what came first” is popular among those in the mental health community. In one study cited by the World Health Organization, it was found that the prevalence of psychiatric disorders was increased with unemployment. This study also found that unemployment almost doubles the chance of depression, obsessive-compulsive and anxiety disorders, quadruples the chance of drug abuse, and chances of mixed depressive and anxiety disorder by over two-thirds.
In another study, researcher Chris Hudson in 2005, studied data of more than 34,000 individuals. At least twice in the last seven years, these individuals were hospitalized in acute psychiatric units for mental health conditions. With the exception of Schizophrenia, results of this study showed that economic pressures like lack of affordable housing and unemployment often comes before the mental illness. What we learn from these results is that an individual’s risk for experiencing psychiatric hospitalization and mental disability does in fact increase with poverty.
Mental Health Conditions and Drug Abuse Increased for Adults and Children in Poverty
Adults in poverty are not the only ones who have an increased likelihood of experiencing mental health conditions and drug abuse, the likelihood of these occurring is also increased for children. As stated by the National Center for Children in Poverty, 21 percent of all children live in families that are below the level of poverty. Not only are children in poverty at high risk for mental health problems, but they are also at a higher risk for behavioral and social problems. This increased risk also includes foster care youth.
Between ½ and ¾ of youth who enter foster care exhibit social or behavioral problems that necessitate mental health assistance. High rates of mental disability are also shown in youth who have “aged out” of foster care. More than 7 times the rate of drug dependence is experienced by former foster youth and about 2 percent the rate of alcohol dependence than the general population experiences. These statistics only show us the cycle of poverty and mental illness are able to continue.
Mental Health Conditions and Addiction
Individuals with mental health conditions often self-medicate by using alcohol or drugs to numb their psychological and physical pain. To feel normal, these individuals depend on these substances after a while. Addiction may occur for those individuals who regularly use substances, regardless of the negative consequences.
Addiction changes the brain’s chemistry and is considered a mental illness. Areas of the brain in charge of decision-making, thinking, and pleasure are altered with drugs and alcohol. A severe substance use disorder can make an individual act compulsively, experience many health problems, and have difficulty handling everyday tasks.
Poor communities see more drug use than wealthier ones. In fact, as stated by the Center for Disease Control, those with an annual income of below 20 thousand used heroin more than those with an annual income of 50 thousand or more.
The Need for Treatment
Seeking treatment for a mental health condition is of extreme importance. Unfortunately, many individuals who experience these conditions fail to seek treatment for various reasons and one of those is lack of practicing psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers. In addition to a lack of providers, those not on Medicaid may have certain medications with high out-of-pocket costs or are not covered in the individual’s insurance.
If we expect to make a difference, better access to mental health care is needed for those in poverty.