I have written many times about the impact of poverty on mental and physical health.
The Canadian Medical Association lists poverty as the leading factor determining health in our country.
Issues such as lack of affordable housing, inadequate ability to purchase nutritious food, lack of access to medications or other treatments and other poverty related social issues have a major impact on the health of individuals and all contribute to a growing health gap between affluent and lower income Canadians.
A recent report from the BC Healthy Living Alliance examined a decade of chronic disease in our province to determine strategies for prevention. The report, titled On the Path to Better Health, identifies a disproportionate amount of disease among some populations in our province.
Not surprisingly, low income British Columbians are more likely to die early (24-91% more likely) from a number of diseases – cancer (24%), respiratory diseases (53%), circulatory diseases (65%) and diabetes (91%).
The report also takes time to emphasize the connection between physical and mental health.
Quoting the National Centre for Disease Control and Health Promotion, the BC report underlines the “extensive evidence connecting mental illness to chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular, diabetes, obesity, asthma, arthritis, epilepsy and cancer.”
It goes on to say that positive interventions encouraging things such as regular exercise, good nutrition, social networks and emotional resilience offer a protective effect when it comes to lifelong mental and physical health outcomes.
Unfortunately, poverty impacts people’s ability to lead healthy lives.
It is a barrier to healthy eating, physical activity, safe housing and social connection—all determinants of long term physical and mental health. If we are concerned about closing the health gap and ensuring a society with equal opportunities to live healthy lives, we need to address poverty. If we are worried about continuously escalating healthcare costs, we need to address poverty.
Affordable housing, a living wage, access to healthy food, early childhood development, social support and other basic human needs must be available to all Canadians.
These are not impossible issues to solve. With some focused attention and leadership at all levels of government, we can eliminate poverty and move toward a healthier, happier and more equitable society. In my opinion this is the single most important issue to address in improving mental health care in Canada.