The Psychological Impacts of Poverty
Wed, April 21, 2021

The Psychological Impacts of Poverty

Poverty is a type of human rights violation – it prohibits people from gaining their basic rights with food, water, shelter, and more / Photo by: Tinnakorn jorruang via Shutterstock

 

Poverty is a type of human rights violation – it prohibits people from gaining their basic rights with food, water, shelter, and more. Lifewater, a non-profit organization working with people to end the global water and sanitation crisis, reported that 99.9% of the world is living on less than $2 a day. For instance, 41% of the people living in Sub-Saharan Africa are living at less than $1.90 – the World Bank’s international line for extreme poverty.

UNICEF reported that there are one billion children across the world who are living in poverty, with 22,000 dying every day. Over 805 million people do not have enough food to eat while more than 750 million people lack adequate access to clean drinking water. As a result, hunger has been the main concern of marginalized communities. It has become the number one cause of death in the world, killing more than tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS combined. As the World Food Programme said, “The poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.”

Living in poverty not only means having no money to afford almost everything but it also means living a life of struggle and deprivation. For instance, children born in poverty are usually deprived of access to education. Most of the time, their parents cannot afford school fees, there are not enough quality schools, or worse, children need to work for their impoverished families. Without a quality education, kids would grow up being unable to provide for their own children – a generational cycle of poverty.

At the same time, living in poverty means not being able to afford medical treatment. It means having little to no food on the table, limited shelter, no electricity, and limited resources. The root causes of it are not only a lack of basic necessities but inequities including gender or ethnic discrimination, exploitation, conflict, poor governance, and domestic violence. The state of inequality across the world has restricted people, especially those living in the poorest nations, access to social services that could help them overcome poverty. 

Poverty’s Toll on Mental Health

Poverty not only robs people of their rights to live freely but also impacts their overall health, particularly their mental health. According to Psychiatric Times, a premiere online and print source that provides timely clinical, commentary, and practical cutting-edge content, people who suffer from poverty are at risk of various adverse health and developmental outcomes throughout their life. 

For instance, poverty in childhood is linked with worse cognitive, behavioral, and attention-related outcomes; lower school achievement; higher rates of almost every psychiatric disorder in adulthood, and higher rates of delinquency, depressive and anxiety disorders. Previous studies showed that the long-term mental health impacts of poverty on children are even more alarming. They are exposed to extreme stress at such a young age which can permanently affect their brain development and even their genes.

UNICEF stated that the impacts of poverty on children who grow up in poverty are beyond material shortages. “Children experience poverty as an environment that is damaging to their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual development,” the organization stated. According to BPS Research Digest, an online site that aims to showcase psychological science while also casting a critical eye over its methods, the psychological effects on children of growing up poor are alarming and need attention. 

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience revealed that the activity in the prefrontal cortex of children living in marginalized communities resembled that of some stroke victims. “Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult,” lead researcher Robert Knight, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, said. 

Also, poverty in adulthood is associated with anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, psychological distress, and suicide. A 2013 study published in the journal Science revealed that poverty imposes such a massive cognitive load on the poor. As a result, they have little bandwidth left to do many things like search for a new job or even remember to pay bills on time. The researchers reported that low-income people who were primed to think about financial problems performed poorly on a series of cognition tests they ran. 

According to CityLab, an online site that informs and inspires the people who are creating the cities of the future, the findings of the study undercut the theory that poor people are responsible for their own poverty. Instead, the reality of poverty makes it a lot more difficult to execute fundamental life skills. As the researchers wrote, being poor means “coping with not just a shortfall of money, but also with a concurrent shortfall of cognitive resources.”

Bringing Mental Health Services to Poor Communities

The World Health Organization reported that about 450 million people across the world suffer from a mental health disorder. About three-fourths of that figure live in developing countries where there’s little to no access to treatment. Unfortunately, those who suffer from mental health conditions are shamed or stigmatized by their families and communities. Most likely, these people do not have the same psychological treatment in more developed countries. 

Mental health services are extremely needed in poor communities. Often, these people don’t even realize that they are suffering from a mental health condition because they prioritize making a living more than taking care of themselves. Also, mental health treatments in these places are too expensive for them to afford. As a result, they neglect such issues even if it means suffering more.

The World Health Organization reported that about 450 million people across the world suffer from a mental health disorder. About three-fourths of that figure live in developing countries where there’s little to no access to treatment / Photo by: Travel Stock via Shutterstock