People living in poverty are at a higher risk for a wide range of diseases including asthma, obesity and diabetes, just to name a few. But, surprisingly, the largest health risk for those living in poverty is depression, which affects them twice as much as the general population.
According to a recent Gallup survey, 30.9% of people living below the poverty level have been diagnosed with depression, while only 15% of the general population have received the same diagnosis. This disparity between classes is much higher than that found in asthma (17.1% for those in poverty and 11.0% for the general population) and obesity (31.8% and 26.0% respectively).
What makes depression different from other diseases?
The onset of obesity and diabetes can be tied to specific lifestyle situations often found in the lower classes, including poor nutrition and lack of consistent healthcare. But depression is not necessarily tied to physical healthy issues, although poor health can certainly lead to instances of depression.
There are many different types of depression, including major depressive disorder and chronic depression. Some types of depression are causes by chemical imbalances in the brain and may require a combination of medication and therapy for treatment. Other types may be remedied through therapy alone.
Why do poor people suffer from depression more than the general population?
According to Gallup, “the interplay between depression and other chronic diseases is unclear, and the causal direction of the relationship between depression and poverty itself is unclear. Depression could lead to poverty in some circumstances, poverty could lead to depression in others, or some third factor could be causing both.”
Those living in poverty may be dissatisfied with their living situations, their jobs, or other aspects of their lives. They may feel like they have fewer options, or that they will be trapped in poverty forever. Regardless, “it is clear that those in poverty are twice as likely as those who aren’t to ever have been diagnosed with a potentially debilitating illness and one that could be impeding them from getting out of poverty” (Gallup).
One factor that may lead to these elevated levels of depression is poor people’s lack of access to healthcare. Making sure that everyone is America has access to quality, affordable healthcare is the first step in decreasing the instances of depression among this group.
What can you do?
If you think that you or someone that you know may be suffering from depression, there are many resources to turn to for help
1. Visit the website for the National Institute of Mental Health. This website identifies symptoms of depression and provides a list of resources for finding help with mental illness (www.nimh.gov)
2. Search for sources of affordable or free health care in your area through the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (hrsa.gov)
3. Tell someone who can point you in the right direction. Teachers, religious leaders, and doctors can all give you information about where to go to find help.
Photo credit: Johanna Hardell
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