Blogs 2 May

Tackling the Toxic Relationship Between Poverty and Mental Health

It’s heartening to see mental health take centre stage. The efforts of celebrities and Royals in eliminating stigma is hugely gratifying.


Their efforts will reap rewards when more people start talking about mental health problems, which may previously have been brushed under the carpet or suffered alone.


But I don’t think an anti-stigma campaign should preclude us from an urgent conversation about solutions. How can we provide help to the rising number of people who feel they can now ask for it?

We have a massive, growing problem and funds have never been tighter. So perhaps we should take a leaf out of Dr Arthur Evans’s book and start with a serious look at early intervention.
Every research report you can find advocates early intervention. It can prevent unnecessary escalation of problems and it saves money. Last year’s report from the Early Intervention Foundation found that nearly £17 billion per year is spent in England and Wales by the state on the cost of late intervention.

So where does Dr Arthur Evans come in? He oversaw an innovative piece of work in Philadelphia, USA. It mapped neighbourhood socio-economic factors such as poverty, unemployment and adverse childhood experiences, and used these to target children’s health needs and resources. The study created a risk factor analysis to inform where and how services were resourced, applying early intervention to address problems well before they had chance to escalate.

There has been a lot of work showing the relationship between poverty and mental health: The Children’s Society found a wide variety of evidence to show that children who live in poverty are exposed to a range of risks that can have a serious impact on their mental health, including debt, poor housing, and low income.

This is something we’ve experienced first-hand in some areas of the UK that have lost traditional industries and are coping with high – and often inter-generational long-term – unemployment. The impact on families and individuals can be catastrophic.

And as the UK faces uncertain economic times, it’s important on humanitarian and economic grounds not to lose sight of early interventions in favour of crisis care.

I would urge every party to look at the work of Dr Evans and make the link between economic deprivation and rising mental ill-health. A programme to develop local economic infrastructure over the longer term will reap rewards, with the potential to take whole communities out of what Dr Arthur Evans might class as an ‘at risk’ category.

So while anti-stigma work is brilliant and commendable, we urgently need the right support to back it up: immediate help for those in need today, with a long-term vision for early intervention.

Elaine Bousfield, Founder and Chair, XenZone