Low Income & High Stress: The Effects of Poverty Part 2 of 3

When you live in poverty, you worry about being able to provide basic needs like housing, food and health care for your family. It is no surprise this can cause tremendous stress. Data shows that the rate of adults experiencing any type of mental illness is greatest among those with family incomes below the federal poverty level (about $2,050 per month for a family of four). High levels of stress can damage both mental and physical health over the long term. This is the second installment in a series that will look at how living in poverty affects health and well-being.

Severe Mental Illness

Individuals living in poverty are at increased risk of experiencing trauma. This has been linked to increased mental illness, risk behaviors and challenges to daily life functions. Additionally, poor individuals typically experience greater work-stress because of low wages and the need to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, poor Americans are less likely to get the mental health help they need to manage illness and deal with excessive stress and trauma. This becomes even more tragic when you consider that individuals living in poverty are also more likely to have severe mental illness and serious thoughts of suicide. Between the physical health risks and potential of suicide, poverty is killing our neighbors.

Toxic Stress

Toxic stress occurs when a child experiences strong, frequent and/or prolonged hardship. When children are exposed to constant hardship, their bodies’ stress response is on all the time. They tend to have higher heart rates and blood pressure than their peers who aren’t living in poverty.

Long-term exposure to stress can have damaging effects on multiple organs, including the brain. Many adult illnesses, such as inflammatory diseases and increased risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes, can be traced to toxic stress in childhood. Next week, we’ll look deeper into how poverty impacts children.

ACSET Community Action Agency’s (CAAs) mission is to fight the causes and circumstances of poverty by investing in low-income individuals and families. They do this by meeting emergency needs and assisting in areas of self-sufficiency. Through dedicated staff and community partnerships, ACSET CAA provides services, resources, education and advocacy to improve the quality of life for all residents of Kent County.

Read Part 1: Being Poor & in Poor Health>

Connect with Us!