Poverty, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse: Breaking the Connection
As a practice we take a wholistic approach to healing and supporting individuals and communities and want to emphasize the importance of educating ourselves on connections between poverty and substance abuse, especially how it relates to our mental health.
You’re a college student far away from home and family. You work a minimum wage job late at night and realize that you have yet to complete a major project for your class. If you fail this assignment you risk failing the class and having to pay more tuition and stay longer in school. Neither of your parents went to college and aren’t in positions to support you financially. After finishing the assignment at the last second you need a space to relax and unwind.
You find you start drinking to take to edge off the day, and eventually start adding that with more frequency. Eventually you are drinking excessively on the weekends and going to parties where drugs are shared and recommended to you by your friends to help you in your situation. Without having much time to research some of these substances you begin taking them regularly and instead of helping you unwind and relax they begin to cause more issues in your life.
This situation demonstrates several factors that we will explore that connect poverty, mental health and substance abuse.
1. Living in poverty is stressful(duh!)
Financial stress is real. When you come from a poor background you may have to make your own way and be more independent from a young age. Some teenagers and children are required to pick up jobs and side hussles so that their families can balance their budget and put food on the table.
When you’re barely scraping-by,things that would eliminate stress from your life can become out of reach as you prioritize the essentials. Fitness classes, meditation, meal kits, reliable transportation can be considered luxuries.
Unforeseen expenses like registration fees, parking tickets, inflation and price hikes can completely derail your planning. Medical bills, rent increases, and new charges and fees can quickly change even the most moderate budgets.
2. Excessive stress can impact your mental health.
When you’re constantly focussed on meeting bills and surviving each day without respite, it takes a toll on you.
Inside your brain chronic stress resulting from financial problems can trigger stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Occasional spikes in these hormones are good- they trigger your natural fight or flight response. When these hormones are triggered 24/7 they can quickly lead to mental health issues and mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
Excessive stress can also impact your sleep and relaxation time, if you even have any. Lost sleep leads to more stress and even less energy to accomplish what you need to do to survive. Stress can also weaken your immune system, causing you to fall ill more often. This is turn can force you to miss work or adjust your plans that can create more stress.
3. Addictive substances are often promised to help you as a coping skill
We all would like a quick fix to our problems and sometimes substances are promised by others to temporarily do that for us.
These substances include:
Cigarettes and tobacco
Over the Counter Medications
Some of these substances are good for us, and even prescribed by doctors to help our bodies recover and heal during illness or injury. We encourage our clients to talk to their primary doctors about medication that may improve their quality of life. Many of us drink caffeinated sodas and take prescribed medications that greatly improve our lives.
However, we recognize the harm that many of these substances can have if they are taken without consultation of medical providers, and abused. We also want to emphasize the following fact:
No single action, substance, or change will eliminate your stress entirely.
As we make changes in our lives, our stresses and coping skills will improve the quality of life we experience. It doesn’t happen overnight, and multiple changes are often needed in order to help us find balance, meaning, and joy in life. Marketing campaigns of substances and services often do not reflect this reality, but we feel it is our job as mental health providers to remind you of it.
Understanding the Link Between Poverty, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse can make us more compassionate citizens, bosses, and neighbors.
Our initial example hopefully allowed you to see on a personal level how these three factors intersect with one another. Many of our situations and factors that determine our mental health, economic class and exposure to substances are outside our control.
We don’t determine what family and economic class we are born into.
We can’t choose our genetics or predisposition to mental illness and disorders.
Sometimes we are introduced to substances with incorrect information about the potential for addiction or abuse.
We all fall for flashy marketing campaigns and peer pressure for some of our decisions.
Often our time is limited by competing interests and opportunities.
Here at Xenia counseling, we believe mental health resources and education can improve our communities, making them safer and more supportive to one another. As a company we are committed to paying our employees a fair wage above the poverty line. We meet with many members of the Orem community and some struggle financially and are working through substance abuse issues.
As you learn more about poverty, mental health, and substance abuse we encourage you to reach out to our practice, listen to our podcasts, and read our blogs.
If you are struggling with financial stress, your mental health, or substance abuse we also encourage you to schedule a free initial consult with one of our therapists.
Therapy is proven to help support people as they navigate through these incredibly difficult life experiences.