Psychological Disorders and Poverty

Personality Disorders are inflexible patterns of behavior that impair social functioning. There are usually three components or clusters, beginning with anxiety then moving to a group of eccentric behaviors, continuing to the third cluster of dramatic or impulsive behaviors. Antisocial Personality Disorder is characterized by a lack of consciousness coupled with aggressive or ruthless behavior.

Poverty as Predictor

The first question that comes to mind should be “what causes a mental disorder?” Numerous studies indicate that a major predictor is poverty. The incidence of serious Psychological Disorders is nearly double among those living below the poverty line (Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1992). But does poverty cause disorders? Or do disorders cause poverty? In many areas, the answer is both, depending on the disorder. Schizophrenia leads directly to poverty. However, the stresses and demoralization of poverty can certainly precipitate disorders, especially depression in women and substance abuse in men (Dohrenwend, 1992). 

Big Difference

In one particular study of the poverty-disorder link, researchers followed the behavior patterns of North Carolina native American children living below the poverty line. They followed their behavior patterns as their community’s poverty rate improved due to economic programs being enacted. At the beginning of the study, children living in poverty exhibited a large degree of abnormal, deviant and aggressive behavior. After four years of economic growth and reduced poverty levels, the same aged group of children saw a forty percent decrease in the negative behaviors, while children still living in communities below the poverty line saw no change in their behavior (Costello Et al., 2003). 

U.S. Tops Disorder Race

A twenty-first century study by the World Health Organization (WHO) based on 90-minute interviews with over 60,000 people in twenty countries showed the United States participants had the highest number of psychological disorders despite being the richest country. In addition, immigrants to the United States from Mexico and elsewhere saw a decline in disorders as they assimilated over time, while native-born Mexican-Americans are at a greater risk for mental disorders (WHO, 2004).

A 2002 National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study estimated as many as 1 in 7 Americans had suffered a significant mental disorder during the past year. Similar studies in the U.K. and Australia reported a 1 in 6 disorder rate.

Do you have a close friend or family member who has experienced a psychological disorder? If so, we hope that you have a better understanding of the challenges that person is facing.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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