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Anxiety in mothers caused by poverty, not mental illness

The 2011 Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study found that Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) was very common among the poorest mothers in its sample, according to this article in The Atlantic.

However Judith Baer, DSW, an associate professor of social work at Rutgers University, wondered whether these women truly had the disorder.

Baer reanalyzed the data and found the anxiety of these mothers is often caused by the poverty they live in and not from mental illness.

For instance, mothers who received free food were 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with GAD and mothers who had problems paying utilities were 2.44 times more likely.

“That’s the point,” Baer said, “That psychiatry has gone so far… that they’re confusing what’s happening in every day life with mental disorder.”

Social workers help families overcome life’s hurdles. To learn more visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Kids and Families website by clicking here.

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  1. These are fascinating results that resonate with some of the research I have done with the Center for Disease control’s survey on behavioral risks that contains more than 50,000 respondents who participated in their stratified sample of individuals throughout the USA. Camille Busette (who is now with the Financial Consumer Protection Agency) and I reported on the “Health-Wealth Connection” in the Autumn of 2010: Both mental and physical health are affected by both material (income) and non-material (education) assets. Now the question becomes one of identifying the connection – there is a group in Oakland, CA, the “Health-Wealth Collaborative (funded by the California Endowment),” that is vigorously studying this connection. Their website has a lot of resources for investigators who are interested in studying the connection.

    One thing that I would like to see more research about is the psychological dimensions of the health-wealth connection. There is little doubt that having stress about food insecurity is going to have an impact on people because anxiety is the fear of what may happen. I think there is actually a larger cluster of negative affectivity that goes along with poverty that also includes the other two major kinds of negative affect: (a) Anger and (b) Depression. Notions of “Racial Stigma” (the perception that other people do not value your group as much as they do other groups) may be generalized and compounded into “Financial Stigma,” especially when it concerns extreme groups who are disadvantaged; e.g., people living in poverty. Decades ago, McClelland (1979) found in a prospective study that men who had high scores on “Inhibited Power Motivation” were far more likely to have a heart attack…

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