Tackling poverty for good mental health

Shari McDaid, Mental Health Foundation, and Peter Kelly, The Poverty Alliance.

Today we are proud to launch a new partnership between The Poverty Alliance and Mental Health Foundation. Together we will carry out an ambitious research and policy programme to address poverty as a fundamental driver of mental ill-health. We will conduct research along with members of the community and community organisations on the source and impact of poverty stigma on mental health. We will examine how current and potential social security policies such as Universal Credit affects the mental health and wellbeing of people, families and communities. We will explore the mental health effects of employment policies such as zero-hours contracts. Our research will produce evidence-based recommendations for the improvements that will result in good mental health for all. 

So why are we embarking on this work?

Our mental health is shaped by our environments. Our social, economic, and physical environments all play a part in building and maintaining our wellbeing. It is astonishing that in 2022 we are still living in a vastly unequal society.  Mental health problems are not evenly distributed across the whole population. Poverty, inequality, and discrimination place some people at a much higher risk.  

Poverty is a key driver of mental health problems.

More than 1 million people and almost a quarter of all children in Scotland live in poverty. Studies suggest, compared to those living in affluent areas, adults living in Scotland’s most deprived areas are twice as likely to experience anxiety or depression; are three times more likely to die from suicide and are 18 times more likely to have a drug-related death. Research by Public Health Scotland has also identified children in the lowest income households are four times more likely to experience mental health problems, with consequences extending into adulthood.

As if the challenges of living every day uncertain of whether you can afford adequate food, shelter or warmth aren’t damaging enough, people who are living in poverty must contend with unfair labels and perceptions of being lazy, incompetent or liars. This stigma and the suggestion that poverty is caused by a personal failing can negatively impact a person’s confidence and self-esteem, further driving the likelihood of developing a mental health problem.

A focus on reducing poverty is a focus on improving mental health. We at the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland and The Poverty Alliance are committed to working together towards change. We hope that this year will be among the last where we are still despairing of high rates of poverty and inequality in Scotland and the negative impact it has in every area of people’s lives.

To make this hope a reality, we must work collaboratively with experts and organisations across Scotland, and with the participation of people directly affected by poverty and poor mental health. Governments, charities, the private sector, communities, and people affected by poverty taking collective action will help us create the Wellbeing Society that we all need to thrive. 

Today we are hosting a virtual roundtable event to bring experts, including people with lived experience of poverty and poor mental health, and organisations together as we make a start on this vital work. We are delighted that our work is being welcomed and supported by so many across the Third Sector, academia and government. We are optimistic that this work will drive real positive change for people in Scotland.

The partnership is being led by Dr Pamela Jenkins at Mental Health Foundation and Fiona McHardy at The Poverty Alliance. If you would like to know more or get involved, please get in touch.