The Atlanta Women’s Foundation examines all of our work through a gender lens because social problems affect women and girls in unique ways—biologically, psychologically, and economically—so programs designed to deal with these problems must acknowledge, honor, and reflect these factors. Nowhere is this truer than with poverty and mental health.
Women are more likely than men to suffer from certain mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Regardless of race and ethnicity, women report being diagnosed with depression more than men. In fact, depression is ranked second to child birth as the leading cause of hospitalization for women. There are several potential explanations for this gender disparity, including women’s higher rates of poverty, trauma from gender-based violence, and greater likelihood that they care for disabled or ill family members.
Social sciences research has repeatedly shown the negative relationship of socioeconomic status with mental illness. “One of the most consistently replicated findings in the social sciences has been the negative relationship of socioeconomic status with mental illness: the lower the socioeconomic status of an individual, the higher the risk of mental illness” (Hudson 2005, 1). Additionally, multiple associations exist between mental health conditions and chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. These chronic conditions also occur frequently when poverty is a factor.
The lives of women in poverty are filled with many challenges, often compounding each other. These women experience stress, grief, and depression, lacking the resources or networks in place to manage these strong emotions appropriately and healthfully. Without access to the services needed, these women are unable to accomplish the goals they are trying to achieve to become economically self-sufficient.
Compounding the barriers of mental health and poverty is a lack of access to affordable quality healthcare. Despite progress, Georgia still has the fourth-highest rate in the country of uninsured people. When disaggregated by gender, the statistic is even more alarming. About 17% of women in Georgia have no health insurance, the third-highest uninsured rate for adult women of any state. The health of women with lower incomes is directly affected by their inability to obtain health insurance. Women are more likely than men to have health insurance, but uninsured women with low incomes are more likely to go without health care because of cost.
Women of color are less likely to carry health insurance than their white counterparts, partly because they are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs which are less likely to offer employer-based health coverage. Even when employers offer health coverage, women of color typically earn lower incomes, making it tougher for them to afford health insurance.
While the problem of poverty and mental health is significant, there are solutions. Through supportive public policies like Medicaid expansion and strong community-based nonprofits like AWF’s grant recipients that provide wrap around services, women can receive treatment to manage their mental health. When women are mentally and physically healthy, they are better able to get and maintain a job, take care of their families, and lead economically self-sufficient lives.
Ways to Get Involved
- Support organizations like The Atlanta Women’s Foundation and invest in programs like our Promoting Women and Girls’ Mental Health & Wellbeing Project.
- Educate yourself on the simultaneous barriers low-income women face through AWF’s research report: Women-Powered Prosperity in Metro Atlanta: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett Counties.
- Help end the stigma and discrimination around mental health and mental illness. Organizations like Bring Change to Mind offer tools and resources.
- Watch documentaries like Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert, which tells the story of a year in the life of one mother whose daily struggles illuminate the challenges faced by low-income women and their families.
Original contribution by Kate Balzer, Director of Communications at The Atlanta Women’s Foundation.
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