Mental health workers have long campaigned to end the stigma associated with mental illness by raising community awareness about mental health. However, while removing the stigma about mental health is important, it achieves little in isolation. The conversation needs to examine how the structures of society cause and perpetuate poor mental health.
Poverty, poor housing, and debt all have a detrimental impact on the mental health of children and adults.
For children in particular, the impact of poverty early in their lives, increases the lifetime risk of long-term mental health problems.
The UK’s National Child Development Study found children from families experiencing homelessness are four times as likely to experience mental health problems as settled families. Further, women and men, in the lowest economic quintile of the population, are twice as likely to be at risk of mental health problems as those on average incomes.
Poverty increases the likelihood of developing mental illness, and mental illness increases the risk of poverty. Combating only one factor does nothing to end the ongoing cycle of mental health – the two are inextricably linked.
Refusing to recognise the link between poverty, housing and mental health creates an avoidable drain on the public purse. But even if economic arguments do not sway the government, the emotional well-being of people needs to be recognised.
Any mental health strategy needs to champion combating poverty and lack of access to appropriate housing to stop more people experiencing preventable problems.