Poverty and Mental Health: What Is Not Understood Can Hurt

Researchers had college students watch different videos of the same fourth grade girl taking an oral achievement test. The only differences in the videos were subtle cues about her social class. Viewers who were led to believe she came from a low-income household assumed that her test performance would be substantially lower than those who believed her to be of a higher socioeconomic status (Darley and Gross, 1983). What does this say about our societal biases about socioeconomic status? Plenty…. Perceptions often influence us more than we think.

The World Health Organization has described poverty as the greatest cause of suffering in the world. Those in poverty must make significant and difficult decisions every day that require a lot of willpower.

Poor mental health has been linked to poverty, especially when adequate resources and psychological care are not accessible to those in need. The answer to questions on how poor mental health and poverty are interconnected may not be simple, but what each of us can do is clear.

So how can we help? Examine your own behaviors and attitudes about those of lower financial means. Better yet, volunteer to work with underserved populations in your area. One of the best ways to change attitudes and prejudice is through understanding what we fear or what we do not know or understand. Personal contact with the poor makes you less likely to blame them for their situation than those who distance themselves (Wilson, 1994). If you don’t have the time to volunteer, consider supporting your local non-profits through food, clothing, or monetary donations. Any of these options will improve everyone’s mental health, yours included.

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About the Author: Christina Moore

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