The Effects of Long-Term Poverty on Children’s Mental Health


Milton Hershey School pic

Milton Hershey School

Milton Hershey School provides a high-quality residential education to more than 2,000 children from underserved backgrounds, many of whom lack access to behavioral health care. Knowing the importance of mental health on learning, Milton Hershey School provides counseling and other services to its students as needed.

According to a study conducted at Cornell University, children who grow up in low-income homes struggle more with mental health issues, cognitive challenges, and overall levels of stress than children from higher-income homes. Researchers evaluated data collected from more than 300 children and young adults over the course of 15 years and found that children raised in poverty had higher levels of stress through childhood and into adulthood.

The researchers also found that children and young adults from underresourced backgrounds scored lower on tests of spatial memory and gave up on challenging tasks 8 percent faster than their wealthier counterparts. Children who had lived in a low-income household also showed higher levels of learned helplessness. Researchers believe that these overall effects are attributable, at least partially, to the physical and psychosocial risk factors, such as violence and poor quality of housing, associated with economic hardship.

Studies have also shown that leaving poverty is associated with improvements in psychological functioning. Although children from low-income households show higher levels of antisocial behavior and depression at young ages, those whose household income rises over time tend to present with better mental health. Researchers believe that it may be the side effects of such changes, including losses or gains in stability, that explain these effects.


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