• Marilou Cameron

Mental Health in Lower Income Communities


October 10th marked World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness for and educate individuals on mental health in an effort to diminish the stigma that seems to surround the topic (WFMH). A number of celebrities and influencers, including Lady Gaga, posted with #WorldMentalHealthDay, boosting the hashtag to the number one trending spot on Twitter and other social media platforms. While social media may not always be portrayed in a positive light, its broad reach to millions of users can be crucial in raising awareness for various current events and prominent topics, such as mental health advocacy. Apps such as Instagram and Twitter often target a younger audience, a demographic that represents a large portion of those affected by various mental health conditions. According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the second largest cause of death for fifteen to twenty-nine year olds worldwide (WHO Suicide). Of those afflicted by mental illnesses, half who have been diagnosed developed their conditions by the age of fourteen and three quarters by their mid-twenties (WHO Mental Health). While these statistics may seem high, according to a research survey on mental health by The Star and Ryerson University, fourteen out of fifteen Canadian universities surveyed reported to “have increased their mental health budgets over the past five years” (Cribb). More distinctively, researchers have identified a link between socioeconomic class and mental state, with Canadians from smaller income groups being as much as three or four times more likely to report “poor to fair mental health” than those in the highest income class (CAMH).

This link between mental health and income levels doesn’t only apply nationally, but is also reflected internationally, with 79% of suicides occurring in low or middle income countries (WHO Suicide). The ones most at risk in low income communities are children. Nevertheless it is believed that early intervention and the availability of counseling could help change their futures and prevent symptoms from worsening when they reach adolescence or early adulthood (Atlantic). The prominence of mental health issues in low income communities is perpetuated by a cycle of lack of employment opportunities, which often afflicts those with other mental and physical disabilities (CAMH). According to a national, longitudinal survey conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, the conclusion drawn from the research was that low incomes were correlated directly to increases in mental disorders as well as suicide attempts (Sareen). More interestingly, the same research project determined that a decrease in current income could also lead to these outcomes (Sareen). Children growing up in these communities are more likely to be repeatedly exposed to various trauma, such as food and housing insecurity, meaning that they are at a greater risk to both mental and physical health consequences (Atlantic). While they are most at risk, many of these children do not have access to insurance and mental care, creating a strain on the public school system, which is expected to fill in that role (Mahnken). In America, school psychologists are dealing with more than twice the amount of students than is deemed manageable, which results in less effective psychological support for the patients (Mahnken). The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has been urging the government for more adequate funding of interdisciplinary mental health services, which include “psychologists, social workers, addiction counselors, recovery coaches and peer support workers”, all of which aid in treating mental health conditions before hospitalization is required (CMHA National). In addition to these traditional measures of treatment, the CMHA has also launched initiatives such as Bounce Back and Living Life to the Full, which provide assistance to those who are experiencing early symptoms of mental illness, and yet these programs are not currently funded by the government (CMHA National). The CMHA believes that by investing in such programs, there could be a decrease in the need for hospitalization services related to mental illness (CMHA National).

Certain causes of mental illness, such as food and housing insecurity, are topics that have remained unaddressed by the government and continue to cause problems in many communities (CMHA National). With #WorldMentalHealthDay it is not only important to raise awareness for mental health conditions and to defy the stigma, but it is also crucial to ensure that adequate care is made available to all people, especially those that the current system has left behind. Advocacy for all and a change in the funding policy for various mental health initiatives are current issues that need to be addressed by the government in order for progress to be made in providing an early diagnosis and prevent mental illnesses from reaching a critical stage before an individual receives the medical attention they deserve.

Atlantic: Askarinam, Leah. “Schools in Poor Areas Have More Students with Mental Health Needs.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 13 Jan. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/schools-in-poor-areas-have-more-students-with-mental-health-needs/458808/.

CAMH: “Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics.” CAMH, www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics.

CAMH National: “CMHA Urges for Better Funding.” CMHA National, 19 Oct. 2017, cmha.ca/news/cmha-urges-for-better-funding.

Cribb: Cribb, Robert, et al. “Demand for Youth Mental Health Services Is Exploding. How Universities and Business Are Scrambling to React.” Thestar.com, 29 May 2017, www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/05/29/youth-mental-health-demand-is-exploding-how-universities-and-business-are-scrambling-to-react.html.

Mahnken: Mahnken, Kevin. “The Hidden Mental Health Crisis in America's Schools: Millions of Kids Not Receiving Services They Need.” The 74 The Hidden Mental Health Crisis in Americas Schools Millions of Kids Not Receiving Services They Need Comments, 7 Nov. 2017, www.the74million.org/the-hidden-mental-health-crisis-in-americas-schools-millions-of-kids-not-receiving-services-they-need/.

Sareen: Sareen, J, et al. “Relationship between Household Income and Mental Disorders: Findings from a Population-Based Longitudinal Study.” Archives of General Psychiatry., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21464366.

WFMH: “World Mental Health Day 2018.” World Federation for Mental Health, wfmh.global/world-mental-health-day-2018/.

WHO Mental Health: “Child and Adolescent Mental Health.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 28 Sept. 2018, www.who.int/mental_health/maternal-child/child_adolescent/en/.

WHO Suicide: “Suicide.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 24 Aug. 2018, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide.


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