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Mental Health, Poverty, and its Effects on the Human Psyche: A Case Study


Tasnia Shahrin, Fatin Hamama


Poverty in Bangladesh is an alarming issue for the citizens of this country as it still stands as a big barrier to our development. Because of the lack of proper and sufficient representation in the media, incidents of working class people suffering from mental anguish and taking drastic steps are left unnoticed and unreported. One such case was the news of a farmer from Thakurgaon who had committed suicide as a result of being neck-deep in debt. Regarding this, the Dhaka Tribune wrote:

“A farmer committed suicide after reportedly failing to pay off debt from various NGOs and cooperative societies of the Baliadangi upazila of Thakurgaon. The deceased Kunjo Mohon, 40, hung himself in his residence in the Nageshwar village under the Dhantala union on Friday. Al Mamun, a local journalist, said: ‘The farmer, as he did not get fair paddy prices, was unable to make enough money to pay-off his debts.’”

While there were many victims of poverty like Kunjo Mohan, it is pivotal for the youth of this modern generation to know how this much alarming issue of poverty has many dangerous impacts on the mental health of people belonging to the lower economic class or working class. On top of that, not only are they unable to afford therapy, but adequate portrayals of their issues are almost non-existent in mainstream media.

In this article, a case-study will be made in order to focus on the current financial situation of an ordinary driver who not only has a very low income but is also suffering from the symptoms of several mental issues. With this case-study, the article intends to portray just one real life example to show how poverty can affect a person’s life in multiple psychological ways possible.

 

  • Methodology

Details about the interviewee: For the sake of maintaining the privacy of the subject’s personal information, a pseudonym has been used to refer to him. Also, his workplace, birth year, and hometown have also been made incognito.


Work Citation: This paper uses a few statistics, newspaper articles, and other forms of data which are already available on the internet. Thus, to avoid plagiarism, there is a section titled “references” where all the sources are cited following the American Psychological Association (APA) format.


Focus of the Interview: The interview was structured so that the primary focus zoomed in on the issues the subject was facing mentally. Apart from that, his monthly stipend will also be viewed in contrast to the price of the basic products of primary necessities. 


Questionnaire

  1. a) Do you like your current job? 
  2. b) Are you satisfied with what you earn? 
  3. c) How does your income make you feel? 
  4. d) Are you happy? 
  5. e) What makes you happy? 
  6. f) How do you cope with your financial worries?
  7. g)  Do you believe your issues are more mental than physical or vice-versa?
  8. h) How do you see yourself amidst all your anxiety? Do you ever get the time to self-reflect? 
  9. i) What is the worst of it all?

 

  • Background

Details about the interviewee

The interview was taken in Bangla, so this paper will show the translated interaction. The name of the subject is “S” and his age is 38. He has been working as a driver for the past seven months with an income of 15,000 BDT per month. Before that, he has worked as a driver in different places, with his salary being somewhere between 7,000 BDT–12,000 BDT. His current job has been his highest paying job so far.

 

An overview of the poverty rates of this country from 2018-2019

Though Bangladesh is now considered a country with a developing market economy — specifically, in nominal terms, the 39th largest one in the world — the fluctuating state of the economy, paired with the ever growing population in proportion to its colossal unemployment rate, leaves a lot of room for financial instability among most of the lower-middle class and working class mass, trapping them in a vicious cycle of poverty that can outlast multiple generations without any external intercession. The following overview deals with the poverty rates of Bangladesh spanning throughout the years 2018-2019.

According to the Asian Development Bank, the population living below the national poverty line in Bangladesh was 21.8% in 2018 and 20.5% in 2019, and the unemployment rate stood at a total of 4.2% as of 2019. However, in accordance with the statistics released by the International Monetary Fund, the reduction rate of both poverty and unemployment has been much slower compared to the previous years, no matter the overall mitigation.

From this, we can understand that even though from a general point of view there indeed has been a decrease in the poverty rates in Bangladesh throughout the span of 2018-2019, it’s scanty. Therefore, it doesn’t play a significant role in bringing about noticeable changes in the economic stability of the lower income mass of the country.

 

An overview of the cost of basic necessities of this country from 2018-2019

If the escalation of a country’s GDP comes with the same margin of price inflation, as in elevated costs of living and fundamental goods; the overall standard of living doesn’t really improve, and stays the same. The following synopsis deals with the inflation rates of Bangladesh, spanning throughout the years 2018-2019.

According to statistics published by The World Bank, the price inflation in Bangladesh, as of 2018, was 5.544% which increased to 5.592% in 2019 — a contrast of a stark 0.039%.

It can be easily comprehended from the mentioned data that the upward tendency in price inflation, coupled with the slow-paced mitigation of poverty and unemployment rates, was bound to bring about the negative side of change rather than the positive one in the lives of working class people.

Related statistics from the fiscal year 2020 haven’t been represented because they’re still not available as of now. However, keeping in mind the financial repression and immense setbacks our economy is trudging through in regards to the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s virtually no room for hope about even slight improvements in the lives of people with lower income statuses; the dimension of the deterioration of their monetary situation can barely be avoided.

 

  • Findings

Effects on mental health

The findings produced results that placed his mental well-being on the negative end rather than the positive. He repeatedly implied that the fluctuating economy has always diminished his quality of life. Because of this, the focus was on his overall feelings of anguish relating to symptoms of mental illness.

Some possible issues that he could unknowingly be fostering are: Anxiety, fear, lack of enthusiasm, and demotivation. Such symptoms are inferred from his following answer:

Interviewer: “What is it that bothers you the most constantly? If you close your eyes, what is a specific problem that you can visualise on top of your head?”

Interviewee: “How will I manage the next month? What if I lose my job, or get into a car crash? After getting my monthly salary, I try to save most of it. Sometimes, I skip meals and walk all the way from Moghbazaar to Mohammadpur (7.7 km approx).

I just wish I had one assurance that I would always have a roof on top of my head and some food and water every day. These are some basic human requirements; otherwise I would have never even wanted them as they are very expensive for me.

At the end of the month, when I run out of my savings, I feel completely hopeless and do not feel like working for food anymore.”

Such a response shows his anxiety for the future, the fear of losing his present, as well as the demotivation given his struggling experiences from the past.

Afterwards, when asked, “What do you think will improve your situation?” his answer was quite unexpected.

The subject responded by saying, “Peace. I just want one night of peaceful sleep. At the age of 38, that is all I truly want.”

Also, when asked “What makes you happy?” his response was just a single word — “Nothing.” — which was yet another illustration of his lack of motivation.

However, the interviewer re-emphasised the question and asked, “Think again, is there anything that can make you happier than you are right now?”

This time, his response was far more substantial: “Perhaps if I were a different person belonging to the upper-class, that would make me happy. I don’t know what else to say.” It is quite safe to assume that the core reason behind his anxiety is the poverty he lives in.

Effects on physical and psychological health

Physical and mental health are interconnected in various complex ways. According to a research article written by Faisal Muhammad, Muniruddin Chowdhury, Md Arifuzzaman, and ABM Alauddin Chowdhury, “The toll of non-communicable diseases — chronic anxiety, stress, and depression could lead to cardiovascular diseases, and chronic respiratory diseases. And such cases are increasing in Bangladesh as the population becomes more urbanised.” (14).

Even our subject had the following to say: “It feels physical as well as mental. My body aches and I just become really tense and that is what makes my body ache.” It is also important to note that the subject is suffering from diabetes and high blood-pressure, as he says, “I’m on too many medications. I don’t even know what they are all for. These health issues on top of the already existing financial worries are just too much. I can’t manage coping with all of them at once.”

The subject’s emotional turmoil is also taking a toll on his psychological health, and one such case about which he opened up was his lack of concentration. Because of constantly feeling depressed, he was no longer able to enjoy even the simplest of activities, such as his driving job, or even talking to other people.

This also meant that he was unable to find a distraction from his problems. Regarding this, he also said, “It takes a lot of concentration. I can’t drive or cook like I used to, just because I have got a lot to think about.”

 

Conclusion

This small case-study has focused on two important sectors. Firstly, an example of the degree of mental health issues caused by poverty, and secondly, the effect of these mental health issues on the physical and psychological equilibrium of a person. It is important that these two criteria are addressed in a more profound way in our country to ensure a better quality of life.

In a world where mental health is given increasingly greater emphasis in other countries, Bangladesh still has a long way to go, especially as we are not a financially developed country yet.

Regarding this, the Dhaka Tribune once published: “At any given time, one in five people suffers from depression but rarely gets the treatment necessary due to acute social stigma surrounding mental illness, not to mention a scarcity of trained mental health experts in our country.”

Further, the article quoted psychiatrist Ashique Selim as he said, “A patient has access to primary counseling in the country but getting secondary mental health treatment is very difficult. Currently, just a handful of medical colleges and the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital provide secondary services. But the demand is much higher than the supply and providing services to people with limited resources is very hard…”

Thus, unless we try to provide aid of all sorts to the working class, it will be impossible to save this country from the evil clutches of poverty and its severely detrimental effects.

 

References

Desk, Tribune. 2019, May 13. Poverty rate comes down to 21.8% in 2018.

Hasan, Kamrul. 2018, February 18. World-class mental health clinic opens in Dhaka.

Milu, M. Zakir, 2019, June 15. Thakurgaon Farmer Drowned in Debt Commit Suicide.

Muhammad F., Chowdhury M., Arifuzzaman M., Chodhury ABM., “Public Health Problems in Bangladesh: Issues and challenges”, South East Asia Journal Of Public Health. ISSN: 2220-9476.

 

Secondary Database Resources

https://www.statista.com/statistics/438363/inflation-rate-in-bangladesh/

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/FP.CPI.TOTL.ZG?locations=BD

https://www.adb.org/countries/bangladesh/poverty#:~:text=In%20Bangladesh%2C%20the%20population%20living,2016%20to%209.2%25%20in%202019.

https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2018/01/weodata/weorept.aspx?sy=1980&ey=2023&scsm=1&ssd=1&sort=country&ds=.&br=1&c=513&s=NGDP_RPCH%2CPPPGDP%2CPPPPC%2CPCPIPCH%2CGGXWDG_NGDP&grp=0&a=&pr.x=21&pr.y=9

 


The writers are a part of the TDA Editorial Team. 


This piece was created in collaboration with CGSRHR-BRAC, BLAST, and CREA under their project “Strengthening voices and capacities for addressing gender based violence”.

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