Challenging Stereotypes

The Poor are Depressed Alcoholics?

Christie Civil (Class of 2017)

Psychology Major, Human Services Minor

There is truth to the stereotype that people of low socioeconomic class have higher rates of mental health problems, including disorders like substance abuse and depression. There is reason to believe that this is more a result of their situation and less because of their personality or character. According to Meyer, Castro-Schilo, and Aguilar-Gaxiola (2014), “neighborhood safety fears” is an area that has been overlooked. Exercise is known to help reduce risks of both physical and mental diseases and disorders. However, I have, personally, found that many low socioeconomic communities do not have free fitness centers or affordable gyms. One could jog and participate in other outdoor exercises, but Meyer, Castro-Schilo, and Aguilar-Gaxiola (2014) argue that if people do not feel safe in their own neighborhood, then their likelihood in engaging in outdoor activities decreases. The data is correlational, but it is hypothesized that people in a lower socioeconomic status have more neighborhood safety fears than those in higher statuses, which may be why they engage in less physical activity, negatively affecting their mental health (Meyer, Castro-Schilo, & Aguilar-Gaxiola, 2014).

Another major factor is stress. From my own first and second-hand experiences, I have seen the stress and anxiety of financial instability eat away at the mind. The family of my mother and I is considered lower-middle class. We are not below the poverty line, however, we have been slightly too close to it on several instances. On those instances, I have seen my mother age rapidly, and tensions between us rise. She worked to the brink of exhaustion, and would take back to back double shifts. She tried to go into work with a broken leg, and it took twice as long for her leg to heal because she could not relax. The stress and anxiety of the possibility of poverty destroyed her. However, the situation, stress, and anxiety is much worse for those who are socioeconomically lower than us.

In a study done by Poulton et al. (2002), 1,000 children were assessed every two years starting at age three and ending at age fifteen. Eleven years later, the 1,000 twenty-six year olds had their health evaluated. Compared to those in the study who were part of a high socioeconomic status as children, those of a low socioeconomic status in childhood had significantly more cases of substance dependence. Interestingly, whether or not the adult had moved upward in socioeconomic status did not diminish the effects of childhood low socioeconomic status. These individuals were still more likely to abuse and depend on substances than those who grew up in high socioeconomic households, even if persons from the latter group had a low socioeconomic status as adults. So, even if one happens to move up the socioeconomic later, lasting damage may already have been done.


Meyer, O. L., Castro-Schilo, L., & Aguilar-Gaxiola, S. (2014). Determinants of mental health and self-rated health: A model of socioeconomic status, neighborhood safety, and physical activity. American Journal of Public Health,104(9), 1734-41.

Poulton, R., Caspi, A., Milne, B. J., Thomson, W. M., Taylor, A., Sears, M. R., & Moffitt, T. E. (2002). Association between children's experience of socioeconomic disadvantage and adult health: A life-course study. The Lancet, 360(9346), 1640-5.

Scroll to Top