Bright Path Center


Mental Health & Poverty

Poverty can be both a cause and a consequence of poor mental health. Debilitating symptoms and stigma around mental illness have an impact on a person’s income and ability to work.

The mental health of individuals is shaped by the social environmental and economic conditions, in which they are born, grow, work and live.

Children from the poorest 20% of households are four times as likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11.

  • The more debt people have, the more likely they are to have a mental health problem. One in four people experiencing a mental health problem is in problem debt.
  • People with mental health problems are three times more likely to be in financial difficulty.
  • Good quality employment is one of the most strongly-evidenced determinants of mental health. In January 2021, 43% of unemployed people reported poor mental health (compared to 27% of people in employment).

People with poor mental health are more susceptible to the three main factors that can lead to homelessness: poverty, disaffiliation, and personal vulnerability.

 Those with severe mental illness often lack the capacity to sustain employment, they have little income. Delusional thinking may lead them to withdraw from friends, family and other people. This loss of support leaves them fewer coping resources in times of trouble.

 Mental illness can also impair a person’s ability to be resilient and resourceful; it can cloud thinking and impair judgment. For all these reasons, people with mental illness are at greater risk of experiencing homelessness.

mental health & Homelessness

Homelessness, in turn, amplifies poor mental health.

The stress of experiencing homelessness may exacerbate previous mental illness and encourage anxiety, fear, depression, insomnia and substance use.

The needs of people experiencing homelessness with mental illnesses are similar to those without mental illnesses:

Physical safety, education, transportation, affordable housing, and affordable medical/dental treatment. When providing care to those experiencing homelessness, it is essential to create a non-threatening and supportive atmosphere, address basic needs (e.g. food and shelter), and provide accessible care.

People with mental illness experience homelessness for longer periods of time and have less contact with family and friends.

 In general, 30-35% of those experiencing homelessness, and up to 75% of women experiencing homelessness, have mental illnesses.

 20-25% of people experiencing homelessness suffers from concurrent disorders (severe mental illness and addictions).

 People who have severe mental illnesses over-represent those experiencing homelessness, as they are often released from hospitals and jails without proper community supports in place.

Social causation: Mental health & poverty

social causation

  • Social exclusion.
  • High stressors.
  • Reduced access to social capital/safety net.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Obstetric risks.
  • Violence and trauma.
  • Poverty.
  • Economic deprivation.
  • Indebtedness.
  • Low education
  • . Unemployment.
  • Lack of basic amenities.
  • Inadequate housing.
  • Overcrowding.
  • Mental Ill Health- Higher prevalence.
  • Poor/lack of care- More severe course.

Poverty and mental health are closely associated. Poverty leads to a number of social factors that in turn affect mental health – social causation pathway for mental illness – results in higher prevalence, poor or lack of care (treatment gap) and a more severe illness trajectory.

Mental illness in itself can cause a drift into poverty – social drift causal pathway through increased health expenditure, loss of employment, reduced productivity and stigma – resulting in poverty. Social drift:

  • Increased health expenditure.
  • Loss of employment.
  • Reduced Productivity.
  • Stigma.

Community-based mental health services play an important role.

Homelessness could be drastically reduced if people with severe mental illness were able to access supportive housing as well as other necessary community supports.

Individuals with severe mental illness encounter more barriers to employment and tend to be in poorer health than other people experiencing homelessness.

 Housing outreach services that provide a safe place to live are a vital component of stabilizing the illness and helping individuals on their journey to recovery.