What is mental health?
The Mental Health Commission of Canada defines mental health as a state wellbeing that affects how a person lives out their life, how a person copes with stressors, and what a person contributes to their community. Everyone has mental health – what a person’s mental health is like differs from person to person because mental health exists on a spectrum. Mental illnesses are only one part of the mental health spectrum.
What is the relationship between mental health and poverty?
There are many complex factors that affect a person’s likelihood to be in poverty. A person’s state of mental health is one of them. People who experience serious mental illnesses may experience barriers such as stigma and discrimination, which prevents them from gaining secure employment. A lack of secure employment means lower income and from there, people might fall into poverty.
It’s also possible that poverty can lead to poor mental health. The lower a person’s socioeconomic status is, the more likely they are to experience a mental health problem or mental illness.
Why does mental health matter?
About 1 in 5 people in Alberta will experience a mental health problem or illness each year. This is equivalent to 829,200 people. This means that in our daily interactions we know or have met at least 1 person impacted by mental health problems, or perhaps, we ourselves are the ones with a mental health problem. For many different reasons, a person might not even reach out for supports or when they do, they don’t find adequate support. A study found that about 50% of people who reached out for services didn’t find the right service or enough service.
Mental health matters because it affects our entire community both socially and financially. If one of our community members is suffering from poor mental health, then our community misses out on the gifts that community member has to offer. And did you know that it costs the Canadian economy about $50 billion a year to deal with mental health problems?
What are important approaches to mental health?
Research has shown the importance of investing in mental health early on through promotion, prevention, and early intervention. It is also fruitful to have better supports for those with highly prevalent mild and moderate mental illnesses, and for people with severe mental health problems. As well, evidence-based approaches have been proven to be the most beneficial.
What can you do?
Everyone is affected by mental health and we are likely to know someone who has a mental health problem or we ourselves are impacted by it directly. It is up to us to create the communities we want to see. One way to do this is by holding our elected officials accountable and questioning their platforms. Elected officials have the ability to influence policy and direct resources to the approaches listed above. Please consider writing your elected officials and asking them the following:
- In your priority list of issues to address, where would you place mental health and poverty?
- What approaches would you take or advocate for in addressing mental health?
- What is your perspective on mental health in general?
Kahn Lam (pronouns they/them) is the Project Manager of the Community Mental Health Action Plan, an initiative between government and community partners. The Community Mental Health Action Plan has a mission of facilitating stakeholder created, collaborative solutions to mental health system challenges. In Kahn’s spare time, they are likely to be found eating chips, hopping with their bunnies, cuddling cats, or saying hello to dogs on the street.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of EndPovertyEdmonton.