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Low Income and Lack of Mental Health Services

by Aliah Paras

“Low-income communities are often characterized by poor housing, limited resources, inadequate schools, and high crime and violence, all of which are associated with adverse mental health outcomes.” – Hodgkinson, Godoy, Beers & Lewin (2017) from Improving Mental Health Access for Low-Income Children and Families in the Primary Care Setting.

 To be able to get treatment and services for mental health is a privilege on its own. I say this because depending on where you’re from, the type and amount of resources differ. This article will be going over the socioeconomic disadvantage in regards to mental health that those with low income suffer from. Low socioeconomic status can be defined as having little income and struggle to face negative events that stem from it. Not everyone has access to therapy, money for medication, time to put away into both of those, and this can, unfortunately, lead to crime. Being poor takes a toll on one’s mental health and is something that prolongs it. This topic is of great importance as calls to defund the police have arisen during this time frame. Many have called for the reallocation of funds to go towards such services as most neighborhoods would benefit from it the most.

Access to Social Services/ Changing Geographics and Generational Poverty

In areas that are defined as lower-income, they often face stressors such as unemployment, poverty, and inadequate housing which can impact one’s mental health. Another important factor is the location in which they live. Take, for example, an article from Brookings by Allard (2004), where they examine the geographical accessibility of social services in central areas vs suburban areas. What they found was that central areas that have higher foot traffic and had a higher volume of people tended to have higher access to such resources. The issue here is that it doesn’t take into account the ever-changing dynamics of poverty and how it can change geographically.

According to Hodgkinson, Godoy, Beers & Lewin (2017) from Improving Mental Health Access for Low-Income Children and Families in the Primary Care Setting, when faced with these obstacles over a long period of time, especially at a young age, can impact one as a person, their relationships, and their performance in institutions. From this article, they emphasized that this pressure can affect one individually down to the brain structure and how it functions. These changes to the brain can be passed down generationally. This can then impact how they socialize with the people around them and even how they perform at institutions such as school or work. Behavior from those in poverty can be affected by these pressures which can lead to substance abuse and can impact how one parent thus affecting the next generation.


Individuals that are within this sector are at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to where to allocate their time. More often than not, there is no time to sit in therapy when they could be out there working and trying to pay off the next month’s rent or putting food on the table for their children. “Self-care” isn’t exactly a priority and sitting down to relax in a bath is not a reality.

So what do we do?

 All in all, I believe that we need to reevaluate our privileges and be mindful of others. From there we can truly examine the real issues people are facing. We need to look into where the money is truly going and whether or not it is benefiting a community. We need to ask people what they need (employment opportunities, afterschool government-funded day care, youth programs/ mentorship opportunities).


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