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Study finds two-way causal links between poverty, mental illnesses

Study shows poverty and mental illness have a two-way street, with poverty causing depression and schizophrenia, and mental health issues impacting income. Genetics helped untangle this complex relationship.

Written By: Rahul Pratyush @29_pratyush New Delhi Updated on: July 11, 2024 7:46 IST
poverty, mental illnesses
Image Source : FREEPIK Study finds two-way causal links between poverty, mental illnesses

Research suggests that there is a complex relationship between living in poverty and experiencing mental illness. Previous studies have indicated a significant connection between the two, but researchers have yet to determine the exact cause-and-effect nature of this relationship.

The researchers discovered that poverty "can lead to mental health problems", based on their analysis of data from the UK Biobank and the International Psychiatric Genomic Consortium.

"We discovered that schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) causally contribute to poverty. Conversely, poverty contributes to major depressive disorder and schizophrenia," said Marco Boks, a psychiatrist at Amsterdam University Medical Center in The Netherlands.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, examined the impact of poverty on individuals with ADHD and schizophrenia. It was found that people with ADHD often experience short attention spans and restlessness, while those with schizophrenia may have a distorted perception of reality, affecting their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. The researchers used household income, occupational income, and social deprivation as indicators of poverty for their study.

The researchers utilised the genetic data of the volunteers to differentiate between the impact of poverty on mental well-being and vice versa. They employed the Mendelian randomisation approach to gain insight into how a particular factor (like poverty) led to a specific result (such as the onset of a mental disorder).

"We were able to capture aspects of poverty shared between the individual, the household, and the area in which one lives. This enabled us to better identify the causal effects of poverty on mental illness," said author David Hill, a statistical geneticist at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

The researchers found that by using genetic data, they could pinpoint poverty as a focal point for enhancing mental well-being. They emphasised the interconnected relationship between poverty and mental health, suggesting that policymakers could devise better strategies to disrupt this cycle.

"The research provides robust evidence for the need to also look at social factors such as poverty, when you delve into the development of mental illness," said Boks.

(with PTI inputs)

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