It’s interesting that a study related to happiness, poverty, depression, and anxiety was done not by psychologists, but by a group of economists who investigated how these variables influence quality of life. These researchers found a link between different mental conditions and poverty.
The study, which was done by the London School of Economics in England, used a group of 200,000 people around the world as a sample population. It was led by Richard Layard, who is an expert in matters concerning quality of life and happiness. One of his hypotheses was that happiness is related more to psychosocial factors than income level, which was supported by the study.
But overall, the study proved something that Layard summarized in one sentence: “Tackling depression and anxiety would be four times as effective as tackling poverty.” This statement received a lot of criticism. Some people thought that he was simply advocating for scaling down the fight against poverty. However, it’s also easy to see how poverty is born from certain mental conditions like depression.
The relationship between depression and poverty
The figures on depression around the world are alarming. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 out of every 10 people in the world suffer from major depression, and 1 out of 5 individuals have suffered from it at least once in their lives. But how is depression related to poverty?
It’s traditionally been viewed in the following way: poverty comes with a tendency towards depression. This comes from the premise that not having enough money to get by without having to sacrifice anything leads to depression. This sounds quite logical at first.
However, studies like the one led by Layard show that there are people who, despite having doubled their income, still haven’t increased their level of happiness. It’s also easy to see that countries with high rates of consumption, like Japan for example, also have high rates of depression. On the contrary, various Latin American countries, where the poverty rate is high, top the list of happiest countries.
What we do know is that depression wears down people, families, and countries. People who are depressed are less productive and miss work more frequently. Also, they eventually have to depend on welfare to get them through their condition or find a solution to the impossibility of working. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has indicated that up to 4% of a country’s GDP is spent on taking care of mental and emotional problems.
Investing in mental health is investing in economic wealth
It’s easy to understand that the scarcity in which some people live has a huge emotional impact on them. In these conditions, it’s easy to fall into depression. However, according to the IDB, it isn’t poverty itself that causes depression; it’s inequality. It’s sad to live in a reality where some live in excess, while others live in absolute destitution.
Of course, living in a consumerist society is another influencing factor. The ability to spend money is often seen as a source of happiness. People think that being able to buy things without worrying about spending too much leads to inner peace and well-being. However, there are hundreds of thousands of people who have a fortune, spend money whenever they want, and are still depressed.
The path from depression to poverty seems much more obvious than the other way around. People who are mentally healthy and motivated can deal with their needs assertively and energetically. They can find work more easily and don’t make decisions that plant the seeds of long-term poverty.
For example, they’re less likely to have unwanted pregnancies. The economists therefore highlight the importance of investing in mental health in addition to investing in other things that fight against poverty.
Mental health cannot be achieved with money, nor is it lost with a lack of money. The issue goes deeper than that. It has to do with the impositions of a consumerist society, where in order to be something, you have to have a lot. Investing in mental health doesn’t mean training more psychologists or opening more hospitals. It’s more like promoting times and places where humans can get in touch with actual reality, not the one we see through the filter of smartphone screens and anxiety. And, of course, building our lives in a healthier way.