Health: ‘Poverty is harmful to mental health’, study finds

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Living in poverty can significantly harm people’s mental health, a study has found.

New research has shown that those who live in poor neighbourhoods are more likely to develop mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.

Far from being an issue in developing countries, poverty is a very real issue in the UK. In 2013, it was found that a third of the UK falls below the poverty line, with an income below 60 per cent the national average.

In addition to the problems that those living in poverty face, research has found that both economic and social constraints are preventing them accessing mental health support.

Researchers also found that those falling below the poverty line are not only much more likely to experience mental health issues but are also less likely to recover from depression and anxiety symptoms. The scientific study, edited by Dr Jamie Delgadillo, a lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Sheffield, highlights how living in poverty can significantly harm people’s mental health.

Research findings show that the increased likelihood of those who live in poverty to develop mental health problems could be related to an increased exposure to negative life events and a lack of material and emotional needs being met.

The research further shows that people living in poverty are less likely to seek or start treatment for mental health problems.

However, even if treatment is started, those in poor neighbourhoods are more likely to have ongoing mental health problems after the treatment is completed, with a range of material, (such as lack of transportation), and social, (such as stigma), barriers to accessing support.

A lack of understanding by mental health practitioners may also exacerbate the issue, as educational and class disparities between professionals and patients could mean doctors fail to recognise the role that socioeconomic factors have on their patients’ health.

People living in poverty face a range of barriers when it comes to getting appropriate support for mental health problems.

Childcare support or transportation to appointments are often unaffordable, and there is also still a stigma surrounding mental health issues, making asking for support can be very difficult, particularly for those in poverty.

Mental health services working in deprived neighbourhoods also often lack funding and resources, making meeting the increased demand for treatment almost impossible.

Increased funding for mental health and social care services would go a long way towards helping the most vulnerable to reach the help that they need.

You may not be able to buy happiness but a chronic lack of money can be damaging to mental health and wellbeing.

Our approach to mental health may need to be changed as the link between prosperity and mental illness isn’t currently widely acknowledged by policymakers or the mental healthcare sector.