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The Devastating Effects of Income Disparity on Mental illness and Mortality

February 3, 2014
by Ron Manderscheid
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Income disparity has very obvious adverse effects on the mental health, health, and longevity of those who receive the smallest incomes.

Last summer, I reported the effects of poverty on mental illness (see http://www.behavioral.net/blogs/ron-manderscheid/breaking-chains-mental-illness-bind-those-poverty). This analysis shows very clearly that poverty increases the likelihood that one will experience a mental illness, which subsequently will then trap the person in poverty. Poverty exerts these negative effects principally through the physical, sexual, emotional and psychological trauma experienced by those who are subjected to poverty.

More recently, in the just-released 2014 Shriver Report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink (see: www.shriverreport.org), I reported the relationship between poverty and mental illness for women. The rate of poverty among women is higher than for men, and almost half of all women in poverty have a mental illness,  especially depression, post traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety disorder--each a condition that can be exacerbated by substance use. For these women, mental illness becomes a trap because it leads to increased social isolation and reduced energy. To address this problem for these women, appropriate opportunities—career trajectories, female mentors, etc.--need to be developed to create pathways out of poverty. 

Here, I would like to extend my earlier work to the effects of income disparity on mental illness and mortality. During the last quarter century, since the late 1970s, the disparity in incomes in the United States has grown dramatically between those with the largest and smallest incomes. In 2012, Paul Wiseman found that the very top 1 percent earned more than 19 percent of the country's household income--the biggest share since the 1920s. At the same time, the top 10 percent captured almost half of all earnings. Such income disparities are larger in the United States than in any other developed country. My expectation is that these very large income disparities produce trauma for those with the smallest incomes by negatively affecting the latters’ self-esteem and sense of mastery over the environment, both of which then adversely impact upon their health, mental health, and life span.



Ron Manderscheid

Exec. Dir., NACBHDD and NARMH

Ron Manderscheid



Ron Manderscheid, Ph.D., serves as the Executive Director of the National Association of County...

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