‘Those who say that money doesn’t matter usually have some’ – poverty and mental health

A post by our Project Assistant Marie

A key feature of mental health campaigning is an emphasis on the fact that anyone can experience mental health difficulties. I find it hugely positive that more and more organisations and individuals are sending out a message loud and clear that there is no specific ‘type’ of person who is affected by mental illness. It has the power to reassure people that they are not alone and challenges the stigma and harmful stereotypes which exist about mental health conditions.

Despite this, I sometimes worry that the ‘everyone has mental health’ banner glosses over the way in which social and economic factors impact on our mental health. This week in an article entitled We Cannot Ignore Wealth and Class When It Comes To Mental Illness, mental health writer and researcher Chloe Maughan emphasises the importance of an intersectional approach. It’s true that mental illness does not discriminate, but Maughan is keen to highlight that those in poverty are at greater risk of experiencing it. They are also less likely to access appropriate treatment and support.

She wrote the article after many people on social media did not take kindly to her Tweet suggesting that being middle class is an advantage when it comes to mental health recovery. This was in reference to her own experience of being able to pay privately for therapy and having a financial ‘safety net’ when she could not work due to a mental health condition.

Although she wholeheartedly stands by her views, in the article Maughan conveys an understanding of why her tweet was met with such defensiveness. Many people are made to feel guilty and ashamed, that they have ‘nothing to be depressed about’. There is still a great deal of ignorance about the fact depression is an illness, not a negative attitude. Privilege doesn’t lessen illness or make it any less severe. However, privilege is not a cause of depression in the way poverty can be.

My own experience is that those who say money doesn’t matter usually have some. It is much easier to get out of a hole when you have a ladder e.g. financial security and access to treatment without the year long waiting list.

Mental illness is painful, isolating and debilitating no matter who you are. Affluence is a protective factor, whilst poverty is a risk factor. Both of these statements are valid. Yes, ‘everyone has mental health’, but that should never mean we turn a blind eye to inequality.

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