A consequence of the inequitable Social System, that we experience both nationally and globally, is division between the “entitled” (the “haves”) and the “disenfranchised” (the “have nots”).An inequitable social system is inevitably accompanied by social polarization. The pressures of associated economic and social disparities profoundly affect cultural diversity, as cultures define themselves by either privilege or deprivation. Conditions affecting the mental health of society’s members follow these respective confining definitions.
Scarcity Thinking engenders poverty, in that greedy accumulation on the part of some (usually the few) leaves a paucity of goods and resources for others (usually the many). More often than not, social environments characterized by corruption flourish in situations of poverty.
Privilege is associated with power; deprivation is associated with powerlessness. Obviously, the relation between the community, family, or individual and the dynamic of power is a determinant conditioning factor in mental-health. An assumption of power based on status easily translates to “power over” and not “power to”. Powerlessness is often associated with victimization. Unreflective acceptance of socially or politically biased stories perpetuates the assumptions on which they are based.
The Growth of Poverty
According to a recent analysis of the 2011 Census, 49.1 million Americans, or 16%, are living in poverty. California has the highest number of people in extreme poverty. Most live in the Central Valley, where the depth of poverty is comparable to Appalachia. African Americans are 3x as likely to live in deep poverty than Whites; Hispanics are 2x as likely. The subsequent housing crisis and raise in gas prices drive that figure up even higher.
Global Poverty continues to plague a significant number of people around the world. Over 1 billion people—1 in 6 people—live in extreme poverty, defined in global terms as living on less than $1 a day.
The Corrosive Effect of Poverty on the Mental Health
Poverty bankrupts the environment and inhibits the kind of healthy social and emotional development of children that fosters resiliency. Poverty limits resources so that those with severe psychiatric illness cannot get the help they need.1 “Untreated depression can make a poor person destitute.” Poverty engenders a social environment characterized by hopelessness and disenfranchisement, leading to substance abuse and violence. This occasions a deterioration of communities, neighborhoods, and, ultimately, families. Poverty deepens the chasm between social classes, with economic divisions often following racial lines, thereby reinforcing envy, conflict, and discrimination.
Daniel Kahneman, author of “Thinking Fast and Slow”, in an interview on KQED FM Forum(11/7/11), identifies a relatively high level of emotional happiness in Scandanavian Countries, where economic parity is generally guaranteed for its citizenry. But the freedom from poverty isn't the sole determinant to their happiness. According to Kahneman, trust in the stranger is an important ingredient in human interaction, and positive human interaction, of course, contributes to happiness. In systems characterized by corruption, that trust no longer exists. Hence, where poverty and corruption, often bedfellows in situations of economic oppression, are rampant, emotional happiness is sadly absent.
People dedicated to improving the mental-health condition of children and youth must take into account the associated social issues. They are additionally called to address social change in a way that alleviates the divisions that fragment society.
1. Africa has one psychiatrist for every 2,000,000 people