In an article recently published in the New York Times entitled Status And Stress, author Moises Velasquez-Manoff discusses chronic stress, its correlation with poverty and the impact it has on public health in the United States.
There are different types of stress that effect the people in various ways both mentally and physically. Scientists have found that some of the most dangerous types of stress arise when individuals feel that they have little to no control over their daily responsibilities. This feeling of helplessness is most often found in people with lower socio-economic statues, with income being a major determining factor. Not being able to pay bills, put food on the table, no control within the work environment among other things can lead to constant chemical stress reactions from the body.
This type of stress does not only wear a person down mentally, but can also adversely effect ones' health. Those living with chronic stress tend to live shorter lives than those who do not. They are also significantly more likely to develop health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The "American Dream" implies that anyone can overcome hardships through hard work and determination. While the article explains that predisposition does not have complete control over an individuals future, among more affluent people, those who were never poor still have better health outcomes than those who once were. Why is this? Chronic stress can have a major effect on cognitive function and the brains' nervous system development, sometimes creating lasting effects even if chronic stress is no longer a problem.
This issue goes beyond the individual level because the effects of chronic stress are costly. Some of the conditions those who face high stress and prone to are some of the most expensive to treat. And the extent of inequality may be getting worse. The original article suggests that by investing more time and energy into this population (especially children), in the future, we will start to see an economic return. In addition, this could mean improvement in the quality of health for many who need it.
Additional Info on stress in America:
Stressed in America: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/stressed-america.aspx
How stress effects your health : http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx