Poorer mothers: poverty and anxiety link

Living in poverty can contribute markedly to anxiety disorders in mothers from poor backgrounds, new research has suggested. Published in Child and Adolescent Social Work, the study found this is likely to be a greater factor than suffering from a psychiatric disorder.

Led by Judith Baer, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, the investigation revealed there is little to suggest an internal malfunction might directly cause generalised anxiety disorders in poor mums.

Speaking about how best to treat the problems, Ms Baer stated: "While supportive therapy and parent skills-training are often helpful, sometimes the most appropriate intervention is financial aid and concrete services."

Ms Baer added the findings suggest anxiety in such women is often a reaction to extreme environmental pressures as opposed to it being a psychiatric problem.

Confirming the results of other studies, the report found the least well-off mothers are more likely to be diagnosed as having a generalised anxiety disorder than their more affluent counterparts.

Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Stephen Lea CPsychol, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Exeter, commented: "On the basis of research that we and others have done in the UK, I would support Baer et al's conclusions that poverty is more likely to be a source of psychological distress than the result of it. 

"In a large-scale epidemiological survey on depression, Rachel Jenkins and her colleagues found that both poverty and debt, independently, were associated with increased risk of depression.  In our research at Exeter on the psychology of debt, using both quantitative surveys and qualitatively interview techniques, we have repeatedly found that severe economic disadvantage is a source of major anxiety to people – but we have never seen any sign that it is a consequence of anxiety. 

"Rather, its roots lie in low income, sometimes relationship breakdown and, often, a few bad decisions in early adult life among people who don't have family resources or good career prospects, to help them make a fresh start. 

"Parents with young children are especially vulnerable, both to poverty and the anxiety it provokes, because of the great difficulty of limiting expenditure beyond a certain point when children's welfare is at stake."