Recognising The Impact of Poverty on Children’s Mental Health



When her father died, Mma-kamba was very depressed. She was so depressed that she left the house to co-habit with a young man. She was judged, shunned and ridiculed for making this ‘wrong’ choice of leaving home at that age and may have tagged her irresponsible for leaving her mother to shoulder the burden of taking care of the home and siblings. 

This is just one example of how mental health, however daunting, is ignored among other burdens such as clean water, sanitation, nutrition, shelter, security and basic human rights. Government and civil organisations concentrate more on the aforementioned issues and neglect mental health. Individuals, children included, who are psychologically or mentally challenged often suffer alone - ashamed, stigmatised by family, neighbourhood and the community at large. 

It is important to note that responses to stressors differ from person to person. Mma-kamba’s response to her family’s condition could be because she was looking for comfort and her search led to the young man she started to co-habit with. Having just lost an important figure in her life, this may have been her way of trying to fill that void. 

Psychological research has shown that living in poverty has a wide range of negative effects in physical, mental and well-being of children ( and impact within the context of their homes, school and communities.  Poorer children are at a greater risk of several negative outcome such as abuse and neglect, socio-emotional problems, behavioural problems and even poor academic outcomes. The BIG question! What can be done to help children in this state aside from judging their response to depressive conditions?

All agencies have a responsibility to respond positively to the 2013 National Policy on Mental Health Services Delivery. Barriers that affect mental health promotions should be eliminated and instead, be given as much attention as physical health.

By Ekaette Udoekong