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Can J Psychiatry. 1997 Apr;42(3):285-90.

Poverty and mental illness.

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  • 1Laboratory of Epidemiology and Social Psychiatry, WHO Collaborating Centre, Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research, Milan, Italy.



To assess the relationship between poverty and mental illness in order to stimulate debate on future international cooperation programs in mental health.


Epidemiological data in the international literature addressing the issue of material poverty as a risk factor for the development of mental illness and as a prognostic factor for the outcome of mental illness were reviewed.


The international literature reviewed supports the notion that material poverty is a risk factor for a negative outcome among mentally ill people. In addition, preliminary epidemiological data suggest that service-related variables may be determinants of outcome of mental illnesses. In our view, cooperation with developing countries is a great opportunity to evaluate mental health services in a natural setting.


A new generation of programs for international cooperation in mental health is needed, in which knowledge and technology transfer is based on a service-research attitude. Attention should be focused on variables related to the poverty of services that might be linked to the course and outcome of mental illnesses.

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