When it’s easier to get meds than therapy: how poverty makes it hard to escape mental illnessJuly 3, 2019
The poorer people are, the higher their chances of contending with domestic violence, crime, social conflict, homelessness and unemployment.
All these factors contribute to increased levels of psychological distress, which is associated with common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.
In our research, of adults who recorded “very high” levels of psychological distress on what’s called the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, more than three times as many (30%) came from the most socioeconomically disadvantaged fifth of Australian areas than from the most affluent fifth (9%).
Along with where you live, personal income is an important influence: among the poorest fifth of Australians, one in four people reported “high” or “very high” psychological distress when compared to about one in 20 people in the richest fifth.
To begin to tackle this problem, we need to see more equitable distribution of mental health care; that is, delivery of care proportionate to need. As it currently stands, socioeconomically disadvantaged groups very often do not get optimal mental health care.
The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System has begun its public hearings this week in Melbourne. Hopefully, it will provoke improved collaboration between state and Commonwealth services, enabling better access to mental health services for those who need it most.
Socioeconomic disadvantage affects mental health from birth
Unintended pregnancy, being younger, experiencing intimate partner violence and having insufficient emotional and practical support can lead to mental disorders, including depression, among pregnant women and new mothers.
Babies of depressed mothers are often underweight, a risk factor for later depression.
One study showed the mental health of four-year-old children is affected by factors including family income, maternal education and neighbourhood disadvantage. The researchers followed children in this study until the age of 14 to 15 and found the effects persisted.
Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are also more likely to do poorly in school, and are more likely to be suspended or expelled.
Financial difficulties have been highlighted as an important determinant of mental health for university students, too.