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Mental Health & Socioeconomics: A Vicious Cycle

By Veronica Letourneau

July 31st, 2022

Photo: YaleNews - (Source)

A lack of money can add stress to anyone, as money provides food and shelter in our current economic system. Needless to say that his system of income has created a vicious cycle. There is a clear correlation between mental health deterioration and poor income. The unfortunate and ironic part is that wanting to combat this cycle is not cheap, which can further exacerbate one’s situation.

According to an NPR article entitled, “Can Poverty Lead To Mental Illness?”, studies have shown that those with lower income are at higher risk to develop mental illnesses. Families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have also reported lower levels of happiness. From both developing worlds and developed worlds, 80 percent of the studies conducted showed poverty had a higher rate of mental illness. The rate is even higher for underdeveloped countries. So, what exactly is it about poverty that is causing a decline in mental health?

Studies found that higher levels of stress hormones, cortisol, came from those living in low-income households. Possible solutions could be jobs with programs committed to decrease stress, or the creation of governmental policies and systems similar to the ones in Scandinavian countries. For example, Norway (with a population of only 5 million people) makes it much less populated than the US, and the country also has one of the world’s largest oil-funds, allowing it to make health care much more accessible and inexpensive to its citizens. Even if other countries aren’t necessarily in the same lucrative boat as Norway, there is still much they too can learn and borrow from its social welfare model which is centered around providing its citizens with the same access and equity regardless of income and background.

Back to the NPR article, it continues to say that during economic windfalls happiness in people increased. Even lottery winners showed signs of increased happiness. Another study in Kenya gave families $700 as a cash grant, and those families have reported lower levels of depression. However, giving money is only a temporary solution and not sustainable. And at times, it’s not money that may lead to lower mental health - but rather the person’s already poor mental health which can lead to poverty. This vicious cycle needs to be addressed from the root of the person’s problems, and the person needs to realize first that they’re struggling in order to seek out help and treatment.

Mental health care can be expensive, as medication can range from $190-$1,415 and this does not include therapy sessions which can cost between $100-$200.

Again, in order to create more sustainable programs for people struggling with mental health disorders and poverty - we need to look towards the infrastructure of the country, at the governmental level, of where we reside and discover what is lacking and needs improvement. Perhaps, a lot of the answers lie in the Scandinavian models but maybe some lie in others. And while we won’t be able to save the entire world at once, we surely can start taking those smaller, but meaningful steps, which will help steer us in the right direction. Ultimately, we need to find sustainable ways to stop the vicious cycle and correlation of poverty and poor mental health in order to help increase people’s happiness, well-being and essentially the economy of countries.


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