Poverty and Mental Health: How Do Low-Income Adults and Children Fare in Psychotherapy?


  • This research was supported in part by funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (1P30MH082760, T32MH073517, K23MH077071), the Resource Centers for Minority Aging/Center for Health Improvement of Minority Elderly (2P30AG021684), and the UCLA/Drew Project Export (2P20MD000182). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Mental Health or the National Institutes of Health.

Please address correspondence to: Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, Loyola University Chicago, Department of Psychology, 1032 W. Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60660. E-mail: csantiago4@luc.edu


Poverty is associated with an increased risk for psychological problems. Even with this increased risk for mental health problems and need for care, many low-income adults and families do not receive treatment because of logistical, attitudinal, and systemic barriers. Despite significant barriers to obtaining care, research suggests that low-income individuals show significant benefit from evidence-based mental healthcare. In this article, we review the link between poverty and mental health, common barriers to obtaining mental health services, and treatment studies that have been conducted with low-income groups. Finally, we discuss the implications of the research reviewed and offer recommendations for clinicians working with low-income children or adults, highlighting the importance of evidence-based care, extensive outreach, and empathic respect.