The Relationship between Poverty and Psychological Disorders Abstract

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TheRelationship between Poverty and Psychological Disorders


TheWorld Health Organization in Bridgingthe Gap (1995)described poverty as the most ruthless killer in the world as well asthe earth’s greatest cause of suffering. The description highlightsthe significance of poverty as a factor that largely influenceshealth. Poverty, according to Murali &amp Oyebode (2004), is amultidimensional phenomenon that entails the incapacity of anindividual to satisfy his/her basic needs. It also encompasses lackof education, and lack of control over resources as well as poorhealth. Poverty is inherently alienating and intrinsicallydistressing, with particular concerns being on the indirect anddirect impacts of poverty on the growth, management and sustenance ofbehavioral, psychiatric and emotional problems. This research paperis therefore developed to investigate the relationship betweenpoverty and the various psychological conditions based on textanalysis of the existing literature on the subject.

Itis indeed well recognized that poverty has significant consequenceson both mental and physical health, with the World HealthOrganization (WHO) terming it the greatest cause of suffering amongpopulations and the most ruthless killer. A vicious andself-reinforcing cycle of poverty exists which is forms the basicassociation with mental illness. Poverty conditions are sometimescaused by factors that are well beyond the control of individuals.Nevertheless, living in poverty for a considerable length of timeescalates the various risk factors for mental and physical healthproblems. Those living in extreme poverty conditions are liable tostress and constantly worry about money and how they will meet theirbasic needs. They eat badly on what is available or affordable and donot consider diet observance. Their living environment ischaracterized by the poor neighborhoods vulnerable to violence thatfurther exposes them to more risk of personal violence and trauma. Asnoted by Grohol (2012), the relationship is a vicious cycle in whichpoverty seems tied to greater rates of mental illness, and in somecertain types of mental illness seems tied to greater chances ofliving in poverty. This perspective is reinforced by Entin (2011) whonotes that while the adverse conditions associated with poverty causevarious psychological disorders, the converse is also true wherebythe various mental disorders contribute to poverty. The following is,therefore, a comprehensive analysis of the relationship betweenpoverty and psychological disorders.

Relationshipbetween poverty and Psychological disorders

Ofa long interest to the researchers and clinicians has been theassociation between several aspects of the social status and themental disorder. A huge section of research, therefore, existsspecifying the importance of social status in the comprehension ofillness and psychiatric disability.

Therelationship between psychological disorders and mental illness hasbeen described as a complex one. For example, Chris Hudson in 2005study examined health records of 34,000 patients hospitalized atleast two times over a period of seven years for psychologicaldisorders. He investigated whether the patients had declined to lessclassy ZIP codes after their first hospitalization. The resultsestablished that poverty, manifesting itself through various economicstressors such as lack of affordable housing and unemployment, isvery likely to cause mental illness, except in the case ofschizophrenic patients. According to Hudson, the researchdemonstrated that mental illness is impacted by poverty both directlyand indirectly.

Accordingto Murali &amp Oyebode (2004), psychiatric conditions just like theinfectious diseases also indicate a significantsocial-epidemiological association. The psychiatric conditions arelargely witnessed in the poorest areas at higher rates. Theconditions also group together in the disintegrating innercity-communities. While financial abilities does not guarantee mentalhealth with its absence not certainly leading to mental disorder, ithas been established that money is indeed both a consequence and adeterminant of poor mental health. What has become increasinglyapparent is the association between elevated prevalence and incidenceof mental illness and low economic status.

ANew Haven study conducted by Hollingshead &amp Redlich (Cited inMurali &amp Oyebode, 2004) in 1958 as well as the Midtown Manhattanstudy conducted in 1963 by Langner and Michael both revealed that adirect association existed between the high rate of emotionaldisturbance and the experiences of poverty, and in extension adifferential availability and use of modes of treatment andfacilities by distinct social classes. It is a wide assumption thatthe socioeconomic class gradient in relation to disease is largelyexplained in terms of the differences in access to healthcare.

Throughoutthe world, epidemiological researches have established an inverseassociation between social class and psychological disorders.Researchers have consistently indicated that psychiatric disordersare indeed mutual among individuals in the lower societal classes.The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in 19955 published asurvey that investigated the prevalence of psychological disorderssuch as functional psychoses, neurotic disorders and drug and alcoholdependence. One of the major factors in the explanation of thedissimilarities in the rates of prevalence of all psychologicaldisorders in adults was employment status. The odds ratio thepsychological disorders relative to the reference group wassignificantly increased by unemployment. In reference to Murali &ampOyebode (2004, par 7) where the study is cited, “the odds ofunemployment almost quadrupled those of drug dependence with acontrol of other socio-demographic variables”. It is also notedthat the approximateunemployment tripled the odds of functionalpsychosis and phobia and more than doubled the odds ofobsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety, and depressiveepisode and the odds of unemployment also increased the odds ofdepressive disorder and mixed anxiety by more than 65%.

Eventhough the association between personality disorders and lowsocioeconomic status has not been comprehensively researched, someevidence exist to show that the character disorders occur frequentlyamong single individuals coming from the lower socioeconomic classesand living in the inner cities. Researches on antisocial personalitydisorder have also pointed towards the disorder commonly occurring inindividuals from the lower socioeconomic classes.

Poorhousing and low family income predict self-reported and officialadult and juvenile offending. Nevertheless, the association betweencriminality and poverty is continuous and complex. The relationshipbetween neighborhood and impulsivity on criminal undertakings showthat the impacts of impulsivity are greater in the poorerneighborhoods compared to the better-off neighborhoods. In theextremely disadvantaged environments, even the younger childrens aredirectly exposed to the existing community violence and are thereforemore likely to develop the psychological disorders.

Murali&amp Oyebode (2014) emphasize that it is indeed recognized thatpsychoses indicate an association with social class, with the socialclass V having the highest occurrence of psychoses in adults (bothwomen and men). Nevertheless, controversies exist on whether lowersocial class and poor social performance of schizophrenic patientsare the impacts of the changes in people who are vulnerable toschizophrenia development, or as a result of negative socialconditions that cause schizophrenia.

Explanatoryhypotheses of social causation and social selection have beendeveloped to explain the complex relationship between poverty andpsychosis. The social causation theory advances that the greatersocioeconomic adversity features of the living conditions of thelower class promote psychosis on the individuals. This theory was,however, challenged on the basis of a study that revealed the socialclass distributions of the parents of schizophrenic patients that didnot concur with that from the general public. The consequence of lowsocioeconomic status among schizophrenic patients was attributed topeople who drifted down the social and occupational scale before thebeginning of the psychosis. This emphasizes the possibility of therelationship between schizophrenia and class existing as a result ofsituations of life that are experienced by those of lower socialclass. The conditions support ideas of social certainty that areconstrained and rigid enough to impair the ability of individuals toresourcefully deal with stressful and problematic circumstances. Suchimpairments may not cause schizophrenia, but in unison with othergenetic vulnerabilities the resultant great stress may be disabling.


Fromthe presented researches and findings it is evident that individualsliving in poverty are at a higher risk of mental illness incomparison to those who are economically stable. Those of the lowsocioeconomic status lead a stressful life are witnesses to victimsof trauma and violence and are at a higher risk of poor nutrition andgeneral health.


Entin,E. 2011. Povertyand Mental Health: Can the 2-Way Connection Be Broken?The Atlantic. Retrieved from:,J. 2012. TheVicious Cycle of Poverty and Mental Health.Psych Central. Retrieved from:

Murali,V. &amp Oyebode, F. 2004. Poverty,social inequality and mental health.Journal of Psychiatric Treatment. 10(3)216-224DOI:10.1192/apt.10.3.216