Are you sad because you’re poor or poor because you’re sad?
We don’t really know. But a new Gallup Wellbeing report on chronic health problems shows that Americans living in poverty are nearly twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression, and more likely to suffer from a host of other ailments — asthma, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Two health problems on the list seemed to be diagnosed at the same rate whether you’re poor, middle class or affluent — high cholesterol and cancer. But Gallup notes that people in poverty might just be less likely to be diagnosed with either because they have less access to health care. Previous research has shown that people in poverty are more likely to die if they’re diagnosed with cancer, often because they find out about the disease later when it’s progressed further. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that if all people between age 25 and 64 got cancer at the rate that affluent white people do, the number of cancer deaths could be reduced by 37 percent.
But back to depression.
“The interplay between depression and other chronic diseases is unclear, and the causal direction of the relationship between depression and poverty itself is unclear,” notes Gallup writer Alyssa Brown. “Depression could lead to poverty in some circumstances, poverty could lead to depression in others, or some third factor could be causing both. Regardless, it is clear that those in poverty are twice as likely as those who aren’t to have ever been diagnosed with a potentially debilitating illness and one that could be impeding them from getting out of poverty.”
A 2006 Northwestern study cited being poor or being a minority as major factors for depression, as well as being older, not having private insurance, and being unemployed. The Urban Institute has shown that more than half of children being raised in poverty had moms who were depressed, leading to poorer mental and physical development among their children and even putting them at risk for depression later in life.
So if people in poverty are more likely to be depressed, are less likely to get help for their depression and more likely to pass on depression to their children, maybe there’s not just one chicken or egg, but a continuous cycle of being poor and poor health.
How do we break it?