Mental Health: Poverty, adversity and mental health

Poverty and adversity at this critical juncture can limit access to appropriate food and shelter as well as access to adequate medical care.

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Mental health is a critical component of individual, family, community and national wellbeing and prosperity.

Social factors that can affect mental health include stigma, social exclusion, exposure crime and violence and poor access to education.

While mental health challenges can affect both the wealthy and the poor, financial challenges, adversity and poverty are significant social determinants of mental ill health.

How does poverty and adversity affect mental wellbeing across the lifespan?

  • Before birth: during pregnancy, a mother’s physical and psychological health is critical to the normal development of her child.

Poverty and adversity at this critical juncture can limit access to appropriate food and shelter as well as access to adequate medical care.

Poverty and financial difficulties will cause stress and anxiety in the mother.

All these challenges can compromise not only the mother’s health but the developing foetus’s body and brain development predisposing the child to mental health problems later in life.

  • Childhood: Lack of adequate food and safe shelter, limited access to good education and access to health care when needed can compromise a child’s physical and psychological development.

Financial problems and poverty often leads to stress and anxiety in parents and families, which creates a stressful environment for children. This can create fear and anxiety in children.

  • Adulthood: financial challenges can result in stress and anxiety, depression, alcohol and substance use and relationship difficulties.

Financial problems can result in excessive worry about finances and the fear that comes with financial instability, the fear of not being able to survive financially can also cause panic attacks.

Poverty and adversity can cause persistent negative thought, a sense of inferiority, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and depression.

Poverty and lack can even fuel suicidal thoughts. Poverty can also result in alcohol and substance use to try and escape the constant stress of financial insecurity. Financial problems, poverty and adversity can also put a strain on relationships and marriages.

  • Older age: the challenges that come with lack of financial security are felt even more as we get older and start to depend more on others for our daily needs affecting access to adequate food, appropriate housing and quality of life. This can sadly result in anxiety and depression in older people.

How does mental health affect our finances?

There is a vicious cycle that exists between poverty, adversity and mental health. In as much as poverty can results in poor mental health, poor mental health can affect one’s ability to work effectively and productively and earn a decent living and manage our finances.

 Stress and anxiety will affect one’s ability to think clearly and solve problems including financial problems.

If we develop depression our motivation and energy levels will be affected and this can result in difficulties focusing at work and being productive.

Alcohol and substance use challenges can create or worsen financial challenges.

What can we do as a society and as a nation to limit the effect of poverty and hardship on mental health and wellbeing?

  1. Poverty alleviation and financial empowerment: supporting the most financially vulnerable members of our society, investing in social support services for those in financial difficulties and financial empowerment can aid in promoting mental wellbeing.

Being able to earn a decent living, support oneself and one’s family can make a significant difference in a person’s mental wellbeing.

  1. Financial protection of those affected by mental health problems: mental health problems affect one’s ability to earn and manage money and can result in financial ruin from extended time off work and the cost of treatment.

Investing in affordable, accessible, quality mental health services can help ease financial pressure for those affected. Ensuring medical insurance plans cover mental health adequate will also ensure access to care. Workplace mental health support can also support employees affected by mental ill health helping to preserve employment and protect them financially. Investing in a mental health disability grant for those who can no longer return to work due to mental ill health will also protect from financial ruin and poverty due to mental ill health.

If you think that you or someone you know may be struggling with a mental health problem linked to financial difficulties, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

  • Dr. Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse is a consultant psychiatrist. Feedback:  Whatsapp: +263714987729

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