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The Effects of Hunger and Impoverishment on Mental Health

Written by Tetyana Rymska

Edited by Marijn Raemaekers


Facing hunger can be stressful, and constantly worrying about where your next meal will come from can cause multiple mental health problems.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) calculated that the Philippines ranks 69 out of 113 countries with a GHI of 20.2. The Philippines’ high ranking displays the country’s serious struggles with hunger, and during recent years, effective results against malnourishment in the Philippines have gone down. This high rate and stagnant poverty make it difficult to find positive outcomes for this problem.

One of the main and most severe mental effects of hunger is that it increases the risk of depression. In one study that aimed to observe hunger and mental health, out of 3518 low-income men and women, food insecurity was positively associated with depression. Researchers concluded that as the severity of food insecurity increased, the number of reported depressive symptoms increased. Participants who experienced a very low food security had three times higher odds of depression when compared to those who were food secure. A possible way to solve, or at least limit this issue would be donations to charities and other organizations that focus on supporting low-income families.

Another effect of hunger that combines with depression is an increased risk of suicide. In one study food insecurity had been specifically linked with suicidal ideation of more than 5,000 adults. Compared to those adults who were food secure, those who were moderately food insecure had a 32% increased odds of reporting that they had seriously considered committing suicide over the course of twelve months. Those participants who were severely food insecure had a 77 percent increase in the odds of suicidal ideation.

Lastly, hunger has a generally greater effect on single mothers and as a result their children. Single mothers are a particularly vulnerable population who experience food insecurity at disproportionately higher rates than the general population. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mothers with school-aged children who face severe hunger are 56.2% more likely to have PTSD and 53.1% more likely to have severe depression. Another study that researched the effect of hunger on mothers and their pre-school aged children had found out that as food insecurity increased, mothers had more mental health issues, including major depressive episodes and generalized anxiety disorder. The children had also displayed an increase in behavioural problems as food insecurity increased. Overall, for a parent, the inability to feed your loved ones has traumatic effects on a person’s mental health.

Hunger has a severe effect on the mental health of those in poverty. The constant worry of where you will get your last meal and if you will get it at all increases the risk of depression, suicide, and specifically in the case of single parents harms both the adult's and their children's mental health.

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