Psychological research has shown that the many stresses poor people face--due to a lack of acceptable housing, child care, work and health care--can negatively affect their psychological well-being, noted Bernice Lott, PhD, an emerita professor at the University of Rhode Island, at a symposium at the 2004 Annual Convention in Honolulu. And, she added, often those same people don't have access to mental health services.
Also at the symposium--sponsored by APA's Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and chaired by the University of Pennsylvania's Diana Slaughter-Defoe, PhD--three other panelists spoke on the impact of socioeconomic status on mental health.
Vickie Mays, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, reviewed some of the research that has linked poverty with far-ranging mental health effects. One 29-year study, for example, found that children who exper ienced poverty in the first seven years of their life were more likely to experience depression later in life.
"The effect of deprivation appears to be exerted through its influence on vulnerable individuals," Mays said.
Allan Noonan, MD, a senior adviser in the Office of the Surgeon General, spoke about findings from the 1999 Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health. According to that report, he said, one in five Americans has a diagnosable mental disorder, and 80 to 90 percent of those disorders are treatable. However, less than half of those diagnosed receive treatment. Ethnic minorities like African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans are generally less likely to seek and receive appropriate treatment.
Forrest Scogin, PhD, a professor at the University of Alabama, described one way psychologists can mediate poverty's effects. Scogin directs the Project to Enhance Aged Rural Living study, in which researchers visit the homes of elderly, generally poor residents of rural Alabama and administer cognitive behavior therapy to try to reduce the residents' depression and stress and improve their overall quality of life.
"We're providing the kind of in-home services they would never be able to get otherwise," he said. "And we are helping them."