May is Mental Health Awareness Month and every day at Crisis Assistance Ministry, we see how struggling on the economic margins affects mental health.
Poverty Impacts Mental Health
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly one in five adults in the United States experiences a mental health condition each year. For families living below the federal poverty line, mental illness is even more prevalent and pernicious. In a research brief entitled “Mental Health and Poverty”, the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University found that not only are lower-income people more likely to experience poor mental health, including higher levels of severe mental illness and suicidal thoughts, but also less likely to receive the necessary treatment.
Additionally, the McSilver Institute’s review of recent research shows a bidirectional relationship between poverty and mental health in that “poverty may exacerbate mental illness and mental illness may lead to poverty.”
Childhood Poverty Can Permanently Affect Future Health
For children living in poverty, the mental health connection is even more complicated and potentially devastating. Much attention has been paid to toxic stress and Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs), especially the ways trauma can alter a child’s physical and mental health, limiting opportunities for self-actualization. A recent article in the North Carolina Medical Journal, “Poverty as an Adverse Childhood Experience”, argues that “policy investments promoting family financial health are imperative to protect child well-being and North Carolina’s future prosperity.”
Gone are the days of defining health as simply a body without disease. Today we recognize that physical, emotional, social, environmental, educational, economic, and mental factors all play a role in our ability to reach optimal health and full potential.
Help is Available
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, contact local lead agency Mental Health America of Central Carolinas or call them at (704) 365-3454. You may also want to check out their 10 Tools to Live Your Life Well, which includes great information for managing mental health and self-care.