By Andrea Watson March 14, 2021
It’s time for the stimulus package to roll out and most of us are super excited. Over the last year, while covid has run rampant, most of us have seen a decrease in our income. Even those people who are used to living comfortably have been dipped into the horrible pool of need. We can all admit that living in poverty sucks. But it’s not just the struggle to pay bills that affects us. Living in poverty is also linked to mental illness. In this country, where capitalism reigns, when you don’t have the funds to engage in any normal type of consumer activity, it can be extra stressful. Putting food on the table is difficult, keeping a roof over our heads is difficult, and providing all the things for ourselves and our children that we need is difficult.
In adulthood, poverty is linked to depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and suicide. Poverty affects Mental health through both biological and social mechanisms acting at multiple levels. First we need to back up. What is poverty? It is defined differently between cultures and social and political systems. It can be seen as low socio-economic status, low levels of education, or unemployment. When you look at it from a poor person’s perspective, you can see that it is actually a multi-dimensional phenomenon.
When it comes to health and mental health, poverty is one of the most important determinants of what’s going on. It actually intersects with all other determinants of health and mental health. These intersecting factors include:
- Community conditions
- Immigration status
- Access to healthcare
- The built environment
Unfortunately, poverty is a problem with no real solution. There are some community Resources that can be used, more in some states than others. But these are often just Band-Aid solutions and cannot address the full spectrum of what poverty is and what poverty does. I have used many community Resources in my lifetime, and although I am currently housed and we have enough food to eat, my family is still lacking in many things that it needs. I do work, and my son receives disability payments. But it is still not enough to live on. Because of this I’m almost always stressed and my mental health continues to spiral down day after day.
To make matters worse, poverty is passed down from generation to generation. Part of the reason for this is the fact that poverty has suppression effects on individual cognitive development, attention, and executive functioning. This is true for adults and children alike. For a child, living in a poverty stricken family and environment can affect their memory greatly. This is partly due to the fact that the parents are unable to really provide support when they are living under the constant stress of poverty. A low socioeconomic status can bring with it low levels of education, probability of mental and physical disorders, and low IQ scores. Some of the factors that are included that contribute to these things are:
- Lack of access to healthcare
- Low income levels
- Exposure to crime
Often, these factors are present in the neighborhoods and parts of municipalities that we deem “poor”. Unfortunately this brings us to another contributing factor of poverty, and that is institutionalized racism. That is a topic for another day, but it would be wise just to bear it in mind while thinking about poverty.
Children who are born into poverty are born into disadvantage. We love our children, whether we are rich or poor. But bringing a child into a poverty stricken family means that this child automatically has the world working against them. It hampers the development of the brain, affecting things like cognitive development, executive functioning, memory, and attention. This automatically brings a high risk of mental and physical disorders for the child and thus adds extra expenses that we cannot afford to pay for.
It has been shown that poverty occurring in early childhood is more detrimental to a child than poverty occurring later in life. They have a much higher incidence of trouble during adulthood if the poverty they experience happens in the first five years of life. This is very disheartening, because child’s mind is so malleable, they have great potential, and to see it wasted is a real shame. No, I am not saying to skip having children if you’re poor. I’ve always been poor and I’ve had children and I love them greatly. But it is difficult to care for them in a way that I really want to.
Is a wide reaching, popular idea that the reason poor people are poor is that they just don’t try enough; that they’re lazy. Not only is this not true, but the research on cognitive neuroscience and development challenges this assumption. This notion has been challenged by science, and that is something major.
Poverty is a social construct that has been built by generations of capitalism in our society as well as other factors such as racism, gender inequality, discrimination, and many more. It is a problem that does not seem to have an immediate answer. We can help a little bit here and there, but it never seems to go away. Poverty is like a dam that has sprung a leak and is about to burst. We can put a Band-Aid over that leak, but that’s not going to fix the situation.
We need an entire restructuring of our system to eradicate this problem. Some say that even if we did that it would still never go away. But the changes I’m thinking of in my mind are radical. A complete movement away from the way our country is run and the way it stands today. A complete paradigm shift is what we need. Or, we could keep things the way they are and let most people suffer while the few grow richer and richer. I want change. I want equity. I want a chance.