Mental health treatment, as many of us know, can be incredibly expensive, even if you have insurance. More and more people are seeking help, but sometimes that help is out of reach for them financially. On top of that, roughly 9.6 million people lost their jobs during Covid. When you mix the disaster of unemployment with stress about being food-secure, worries about being evicted, along with the isolation of quarantine, it creates a potential mental health worst-case scenario. And when you can’t afford the help you need…the picture only gets worse.
Poverty is one of the biggest influences on our physical and mental health. In adulthood, poverty is linked to depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and even suicide. In children, it can be linked to poor academic performance, negative cognitive outcomes, and higher rates of every psychological disorder later in life. In fact, mental disorders are twice as frequent in those living in poverty as it is in those who have wealth. Since poverty almost always means less access to healthcare, this can quickly spiral and can end up leading to a generational effect.
According to the World Health Organization, people living in poverty lack financial resources to maintain basic living standards, have fewer educational and employment opportunities, and are less able to access quality health care. Lack of employment drives people further into financial distress, making it harder and harder to afford the care they need. All of these factors contribute to the cycle between poverty and mental health.
Those who have been able to access healthcare have found that it comes with its own challenges and hoops to jump through. The health care and social welfare systems are often challenging to navigate. Canada developed Poverty-A Clinical Tool for Primary Care Providers, to help guide clinicians and organizations in supporting clients with affordable options. There are comparable screening tools with the EveryOne Project, which is endorsed by the American Academy of Family Physicians. For people with multiple difficulties, Intensive Case Management (ICM) and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) groups can assist people in addressing the social determinants of mental health, along with improving their chances of entry to behavioral care.
I was lucky that I had insurance and a support system to help me throughout my recovery. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to recover if I had been poor. There are so many people out there who need access to help, but many of them don’t know where to start. You can support friends and family members who need access to care by calling your city or county government, finding out about free or sliding-scale facilities, as well leading them to online mental health communities, and helping them navigate the confusing world of insurance. Organizations like SAMHSA also have a list of resources available. One person can’t break the cycle of poverty—but they can help another person find the help they need. How can you be that one person today?