Why We Need to Talk About the Impact of Poverty on Mental Illness

I am poor. It feels strange typing it, because I am blessed with many things, but it is the truth. I am terrified an emergency will come one day and all of my savings suddenly will be depleted. I also struggle with depression and anxiety as a result of genetics and abuse. When low on cash, as I often am, my mental health rapidly takes a negative turn. I have sobbed to the point of dissociation in the parking lots of grocery stores because I was just so tired of going in and having to ration what I could buy, while also feeling shame about what I could not give myself or my partner, even while working a full-time job that provides benefits. What is also difficult is knowing we are much better off than many who live below the poverty line. We have a consistent place to live and do not go hungry, even if feeding ourselves well is a struggle sometimes.

Additionally, being poor means I cannot miss work. Because of my depression and other physical conditions, I struggle with fatigue almost every day. This means when I come home from working a full-time job, it is difficult or even impossible to do basic tasks like cleaning, maintaining our vehicles (one of which is broken down because neither of us have had time to get it repaired between the demands of work and school and providing our bodies with bare-minimum care) or being physically active. Self-care makes itself a priority in these situations whether I want it to or not. Struggling for money as we do means my partner and I are always being spread as thin as possible while still technically surviving comfortably, if being judged by the eyes of outsiders.

But work means everything for us. I cannot be late for work for fear of being fired and I cannot miss a shift. However, vehicle troubles or a bad mental health day can mean that I can do everything “right” and still be late, despite my best possible intentions. So far, I have not gotten sick while working my current job, but I fear the toll on my body will eventually catch up with me and I will have to miss a day of work, which puts a dent in much-needed income. And even when I am present at work, sometimes I am nearly falling asleep from fatigue or I am awake, but severely lack focus. On other days, I may struggle to maintain a positive demeanor with customers because my anxiety and depression are threatening to eat me up inside. Therefore, even when I am present at work, I am not always “there,” which can lead to the potential of being fired even if I do manage to be punctual and stay healthy.

The lack of maintenance on my body and mind leads to exhaustion, and the lack of maintenance of my home leads to shame, which again is detrimental to my mental health. A lack of money and a need to keep our meager income flowing extends its grasp into every aspect of our lives. It leaves me wanting to just lie in bed and sleep all day to avoid the exhaustion and shame. But I don’t have that option, and no amount of the abhorrent “pulling myself up by my bootstraps” can change it.

How do you balance work and life when poverty makes finding a true work-life balance impossible?

Share your tips below.

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