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What Came First: Poverty or Mental Illness?

Mental illness is already complicated without factoring in what might have caused it. Poverty is also complicated and pervasive in its effects on a person’s mental and physical health. It’s hard to know which may have come first.  SAMHSA says “The relationship between mental illness and poverty is complicated. Poverty may intensify the experience of mental illness. Poverty may also increase the likelihood of the onset of mental illness. At the same time, experiencing mental illness may also increase the chances of living below the poverty line.”

Science and psychologists are still researching this complex question, but there are a few things we know. We know that people with severe disorders like schizophrenia are more likely to live in poverty because of their mental illness. And we know that poverty can cause illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Psychiatric Times also found “The evidence is strong for a causal relationship between poverty and mental health. However, findings suggest that poverty leads to mental health and developmental problems that in turn prevent individuals and families from leaving poverty, creating a vicious, intergenerational cycle of poverty and poor health.” Poverty in childhood is also associated with lower school achievement, worse cognitive and behavioral outcomes, and higher rates of psychiatric disorders in adulthood. This is partially due to the toxic stress that many children experience while growing up in poverty. Most people living in poverty also struggle to get access to proper care for their disorder.

Providing proper access to mental health care and further understanding the relationship between poverty and mental illness are just a few areas that require improvement. But with more time, more awareness and more empathy we can make the strides we need to help improve the mental health of those in need.

Join Us in Providing Help to People in Poverty:

  • Donate | We use your money to help run our programs, and provide training that helps organizations and individuals make their way to self-sufficiency. You can donate on our web page or find an agencies local to you.

  • Volunteer | We can’t do this alone. Join us! Find one of our agencies in your county and check out their website for volunteer opportunities.

  • Become a Member | Did you know you can become a Community Action Member? Membership provides discounted tickets to our various events, an inside look into our organization and more. Membership fees start at only $25 a year for an individual, or $300 for an agency.

  • Partner with Us | We are humbled by the many non-profit and for-profit organizations that partner with us to bring services, educations and events to North Carolina. If your organization is looking for a non-profit to partner with, please consider us. Email us at We would love to hear from you!

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