It’s no secret that poverty has been linked with crime. But what many people don’t know is that it can also affect mental health. Growing up impoverished can be stressful on many levels, factors that impact a child’s capacity to learn, interact with others and reach his or her true potential. Research shows that kids who grow up at or below the poverty line are at triple the risk of developing a mental health disorder.
Just as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs demonstrates, basic physiological and safety needs must be met before individuals can evolve to more advanced goals like forming healthy relationships with others, building self-esteem, and attaining self-actualization. The lack of proper food, shelter, sleep or safety that is often associated with poverty disrupts the achievement of higher level needs and can negatively affect a person’s psyche.
According to Dr. Jean Clinton, psychiatrist employed at McMaster University’s Offord Centre for Child Studies in Canada, another major source of stress for children living in poverty is observing the daily struggle of their parents to pay bills and put food on the table. It’s difficult for parents to fully focus or invest in their children as they’d like when they have to spend the bulk of their energy on survival, she says.
While Clinton advises that not every child who grows up in poverty is destined to experience problems, she adds that living in impoverished neighborhoods does leave certain children open to vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities include compromised physical health and academic setbacks due to language and cognitive delays. One study demonstrated that these delays could even be seen through the fourth
One measure of a child’s communication skills, emotional aptitude, and cognitive development is the Early Development Instrument (EDI), which is widely used throughout Canada and across the globe. The EDI is a tool used to assess school readiness and helps ensure that services are allocated to areas where they are needed most.
Providing early access to required services is key in countering the impact that poverty can have on childhood mental health. Family Guidance Center offers families assistance regardless of income. To learn more about available services and screenings provided through Family Guidance Center, call or