Why are poverty-stricken communities more susceptible to mental illness?


What Do You Need to Know? 

It is no secret that the United States is filled with poverty. Unfortunatley, the struggle of living below the poverty line (an income of less than $23,624 a year in a four person household) affects nearly 46.7 million people as of 2014. Children are greatly affected by poverty, as they account for 33% of all people living in poverty. African American, Native American, and Hispanic children are disproportionately affected by poverty as well. Living in poverty has been consistently connected to an increased risk for worsening mental health.

Seeking Help as a Person in a Poverty Stricken Area

Poverty-stricken families and individuals are faced with several issues when it comes to finding help for mental health problems. When I interviewed Dr. Evelyn Ridgeway, a psychologist at the Early Head Start program (a program that aids families below the poverty line in childhood development) at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, she listed several reasons that a mentally ill person living in poverty would not receive or seek help.

  • Lack of insurance (many poor families cannot afford the insurance that would provide them with the help they need)
  • Lack of childcare if needed (if a person in need has children, they would need childcare if they were to go to therapy when they needed to. This often deters people from seeking professional help)
  • Not being able to skip/miss their job (many people working low paying jobs cannot afford to miss work to receive therapy, and they might even run the risk of getting fired if they were to skip their job. Many people are faced with the difficult decision of choosing between mental health and income)
  • Transportation (many people do not have a car or the money to travel by public transportation, or mental health facilities are too far away for easy access)
  • The fact that there is a history of certain people (ex: people of color) who have had experiences of being experimented on medically, or not getting quality care deters many away from seeking help.
  • Not having the luxury to choose the place where they receive help 
Other reasons 
  • Social stigma towards not only poor people, but people with mental illnesses as well
  • Lack of education about mental illnesses

‘For Now’ Response

This is clearly an issue that affects millions of children, families, and individuals nationwide daily. I believe that every person should be able to have access to professional medical help regardless of income. Unfortunately, there is not much a single person can do, besides educate themselves further about this issue and donate to local programs that specialize in reaching out to impoverished areas and providing mental health aid. What I ask from this project is that people become more aware of the impact poverty has on entire populations. Awareness is key.


Work Cited

  • Hodgkinson, Stacy et al. “Improving Mental Health Access for Low-Income Children and Families in the Primary Care Setting.” Pediatrics vol. 139,1 (2017): e20151175. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-1175

  • Low-income Communities

  • The Population Of Poverty Usa


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  1. April 24, 2020 by Jana

    Hi Danielle! You made a very strong point of correlation of poverty to the likelihood of mental illness. Your presentation made me think a lot about how certain basic services are offered only to people who can afford it. I understand that people who struggle to pay for food and rent do not really think of spending money on therapy. Are there any organizations in the US that are trying to spread awareness about the topic? Do you think, that a lower price of services for people with mental health could be a way to go?

  2. April 26, 2020 by Hassan

    It is genuinely heartbreaking to notice how people around the world neglect the effectiveness of mental health on impoverished individuals. One very recent incident where the world was shocked was the suggestion to experiment multiple variants of vaccines on humans in Africa. The mistreating and continuous lapse of down-looking those individuals has undoubtedly affected their morale and most noticeably their mental health. Thank you for addressing this important topic.

  3. April 26, 2020 by Heather

    Hi Danielle, your project shines a light on an important issue. How might you keep the conversation going and continue advocacy after the conference is over?

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