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Mental Health


The emergence of school violence, gang-involvement, and teen suicide have highlighted mental health issues as a priority for youth, yet barriers to receiving services have been especially apparent among adolescents living in poverty.  Lack of mental health services can lead to negative consequences including extreme acts of violence, increased drop out rates, and suicides. Unfortunately, adolescents who are poor are frequently the ones receiving the least support, while often the most in need of mental health services [4].

1.Choose the statement(s) that best describe the mental state of low-income youth:
1. Low-income youth have a low sense of self mastery and self esteem
2. Poor youth are less likely to be happy and interested in life than their non-poor peers
3. Neighborhood disadvantage is more likely to be related to the psychological distress of female adolescents than males
4. Poor adolescents are more likely to report their self-perceived health as excellent
1 and 2
1,2 and 3
3 and 4
All of the above.
References for this Activity
1. Abernathy, T. J., Webster, G., Vermeulen, M. (2002) Relationship Between Poverty and Health Among Adolescents. Adolescence, 37, 145 , 55-67.
2. Simons, R. L., Johnson, C., Beaman, J., Conger, R. D., and Whitbeck, L. B. (1996). Parents and peer group as mediators of the effect of community structure on adolescent problem behavior. Am. J. Community Psychol. 24: 145-171.

The explanation for the effect of poverty on the mental health of adolescents is MULTI-factorial:

Low self-esteem is associated with low self-mastery, not being happy and interested in life, less physical activity, and not reporting health as excellent. Low sense of mastery is associated with living with a single parent, not reporting high perceived social support, low self-esteem, high distress, not being happy and interested in life, not self-reporting excellent health, and having a higher number of consultations with a social worker or counsellor in the last 12 months [1]. Living in adverse community environments affects youth depressive symptoms indirectly by increasing maternal depressive symptoms likely through similar influences . Youth who do not participate in school and community activities might become socially isolated or develop low self esteem, which can result in depressive symptoms . 

The adverse effects of economic hardship on youth socio-emotional adjustment include:

  • impaired peer relations

  • low self esteem

  • antisocial behaviour

  • anxiety

  • depression [3][5][6] 

Is depression contagious? 

Poor youth are more likely to reside with mothers who themselves exhibit symptoms of depression, which, in turn, predicts young adolescent depressive symptoms.  A direct link has been found between maternal depression and youth depressive symptoms.  This association might be due to maternal behaviours that frequently accompany depressive symptoms such as inattentiveness, inconsistent discipline, and intrusiveness [7].  Marital-partner conflict places youth at risk for exhibiting depressive symptoms.  Depressive symptoms might develop because youth feel threatened, insecure about their relationship with their parents, or responsible for or drawn into the conflict [8].  Physical punishment is also a partial mediator of the relation between poverty and young adolescent depressive symptoms [1]


1. Eamon, M. K. (2002). Influences and mediators of the effect of poverty on young adolescent depressive symptoms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31:3, 231-242.

3. Bolger, K. E., Patterson, C. J., Thompson, W. W., and Kupersmidt, i. B. (1995). Psychosocial adjustment among children experiencing persistent and intermittent family economic hardship. Child Dev. 66: 1107-1129

4. Lewin Group. (2000). Enhancing youth services. Retrieved April 21, 2003,

5. Costello, E. J., Angold, A., Burns, B. J., Stangl, D. K., Tweed, D. L., Erkanli, A., and Worthman, C. M. (1996). The Great Smoky Mountains Study of Youth. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 53: 1129-1136.

6. Hanson, T. L., McLanahan, S., and Thomson, E. (1997). Economic resources, parental practices, and children's well-being. In Duncan, G. J., and Brooks-Gunn, J. (eds.), Consequences of Growing Up Poor. Russell Sage Foundation, New York, NY.

7. Gelfand, D. M., and Teti, D. M. (1990). The effects of maternal depression on children. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 10: 329-353.

8. Buehler, C., Krishnakumar, A., Anthony, C., Tittsworth, S., and Stone, G. (1994). Hostile interparental conflict and youth maladjustment. Fam. ReL 43: 409-416.

All references for this section