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Mental Illness and Poverty

According to a recent study conducted by University of California, older adults who lived in violent, poverty stricken areas are more to experience more depression related symptoms than their peers that do not live in impoverished or violent neighborhoods. Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities are living in poverty, poor physical health, and are subject to human rights violations. When considering mental illness, it must not be considered in isolation from other areas of development, such as living conditions, employment, education, emergency responses/access, and human rights capacity building.

People with mental illness are one of the many vulnerable groups because of the way they are treated in and by society. Persons with mental illness are often subjected to stigma and discrimination on a regular basis, sadly, they experience extremely high rates of physical and sexual victimization. Frequently, people with mental illnesses or challenges will encounter restrictions in the exercise of their political and civil rights, as well as in their ability to participate in public affairs. Those that fail to receive appropriate treatment for their mental illness are limited in their ability to access essential health social care and emergency relief services. Most people with mental disabilities face disproportionate barriers in attending school, being viewed outside of their illness, and securing employment. As a result of all these factors, people with mental disability are much more likely to experience disability and die prematurely, compared with the general population.

Useful Tips to Improve the Lives of Persons with Mental Illness Include:

? Mental health should be included in services during and after emergencies
? Mental health issues/concerns should be taken into account within social services and housing development.
? Employment and income generating opportunities must be created for people with mental illness
? Opportunities should be created that will allow persons with mental illness to participate in civil and public affairs.
? Mental health issues should be integrated into broader health policies, programs, and partnerships.
? Mental health issues should be mainstreamed into education, and children with mental and psychosocial disabilities should be supported to access schooling.
? Human rights should be strengthened by developing policies and laws that protect the rights of people with illness
? Mental health services should be integrated systematically into all health services including primary level care

Examples of the Impact Poverty Has on Mental Illness Include:

? The lower the socioeconomic status of an individual is, the higher is his or her risk of mental illness
? Higher unemployment, poverty, and lack of housing affordability in poorer communities account for more than half of community differences in psychiatric hospitalization rates
? Poverty, acting through economic stressors such as unemployment and lack of affordable housing, is more likely to precede mental illness than the reverse
? About 35 percent of welfare recipients have either major depression, PTSD disorder, general anxiety disorder, alcohol dependence or drug dependence
? In all racial/ethnic populations, persons with low socioeconomic status were at least twice as likely to have frequent mental distress as those with high socioeconomic status.
? Major depression occurs more frequently among people of lower socioeconomic status
? Adults with lower socioeconomic status are more likely to have serious mental illness than those with higher socioeconomic status (SAMHSA, 2002).

It should be noted, persons with mental illness may be living in poverty for other reasons, that are separate from their mental illness. Some people will develop depressive symptoms and suffer from poverty as a result of lack of optimism about their future, opportunities, lot in life, etc. Additionally, persons living in poverty may not have access to, or knowledge about, medical help and therapy that can both help diagnose and treat their mental illness.

People living in long-term poverty may lack motivation or confidence to succeed in life. This can create feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts/ideations. Lack of nutrition, lack of education, and a feeling of living day to day can all deplete someone?s energy and willpower.

It is possible that mental illness can serve as a positive correlate between poverty and mental illness. Someone who suffers from a mental disorder may not be able to hold down a job, or may not manage their finances well enough to stay out of poverty. In these cases, someone may also turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve their mental or physical pain, and may add substance addiction to the list of things keeping them down, financially.