Commentary: Assessing Impact of Poverty on Mental Health

By Cohen, Ruth | Clinical Psychiatry News, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Commentary: Assessing Impact of Poverty on Mental Health


Cohen, Ruth, Clinical Psychiatry News


The greatest of evils and the worst of crimes is poverty.

-- George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950

"I don't care" was the response 1 from Gerardo when I asked, "Of the people you know, is there anyone who loves you?"

Gerardo was a 17-year-old high school senior who had grown up in poverty. He was planning to attend Stony Brook University on scholarship. Gerardo had been referred for psychiatric evaluation because he slapped his mother, slammed a refrigerator door against her back, and cursed at her.

He was eager to leave his family, including his Ecuadoran mother, who sold burritos from a street stand; his 19-year-old sister, Lola, who lived primarily with her 21-year-old boyfriend; and his 9-year-old half-sister, the daughter of the man who beat him repeatedly.

His biological father, an alcoholic and drug addict, had left when he was 3; his stepfather, Manuel, subsequently became violent toward him, and his mother at times held him down during beatings.

After Manuel left the home, his mother took another man into the house. Fred, a cook in a Chinese restaurant, helped with rent and kept to his room.

Gerardo blamed his mother. "She was never around" and was out selling food. His mother overlooked Manuel's molestation of Gerardo 's older sister Lola and enabled her son's abuse. Why? It was only when Lola took an overdose that New York City's Administration for Children's Services learned of the distressed family and intervened.

Gerardo talked about his commitment to school as an entree into a good position. Still, he was cynical. In a provocative manner, he called school, "boring." He added, "The other option is to find a minimum wage job." With anger, he said, "I am preparing to live in corporate America." His disdain encompassed personal, academic, and family areas.

Is the diagnosis of Gerardo depression or a nascent personality disorder? Does he have posttraumatic stress disorder? One thing was clear: Gerardo, an intelligent adolescent, was emerging from childhood scarred by his experience.

The toll of poverty

Poverty is common in the United States. Peter Edelman in his book "So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America" (New York: The New Press, 2012) details that 46 million Americans live in poverty, defined as earning no more than $23,050 yearly for a family of four. Food stamps and housing assistance programs are helpful, but with cutbacks in welfare, there are 6 million people living solely on food stamps.

Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, says that good-paying jobs have gone overseas; the number of single-parent households is on the rise; and the wealthiest have created disadvantages for the poor, resulting in economic crises such as the housing bubble. At present, children rather than the elderly are more likely in poverty. More than 40% of families headed by single mothers are poor.

We view poverty as an economic dilemma, but its psychological consequences are profound. Do poor people develop mental illness or does mental illness cause a slide into poverty? Much controversy exists on this question, but both probably are true. Poverty has far-reaching consequences and creates vulnerabilities. It negatively affects mental health.

Many of the social ills associated with poverty confound with mental illness. Poverty is depressing.

A 63-year-old Hispanic patient described her struggle. Glenda suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, depression, diabetes, and osteoporosis. From supplemental security income, she receives $716 a month. She receives food stamps amounting to $200 monthly. Were it not for her daughter, a school crossing guard, sharing the apartment, Glenda could not afford the rent of $604 a month. "Even clothes, buying a pair of jeans for $35, would stop me from getting things for the house," she said. "I'm angry; it gets me irritated. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Commentary: Assessing Impact of Poverty on Mental Health
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.