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Hi. My name is Ellie Geiselhart, and the title of my presentation is Mental Health Issues in Adolescents of Low-Income Families in North Carolina. This topic is of great interest to me as I went to a public high-school that consisted of students from every social class, which allowed me to recognize how social status influences a teenager’s mental health.

Regardless of what social class an individual is part of, the age of adolescence is often associated with an increased risk in mental health issues. However, society has never really addressed how adolescents residing in low-income households face an even greater chance of struggling with their mental health. Today I am going to speak about how teenagers with low-socioeconomic status often lack basic resources and strong support systems, as well as experience more trauma, all of which can contribute to worsened mental health.

According to the Behavior Health Barometer for North Carolina, the number of North Carolina adolescents, people between the ages of 10 and 19, who reported having a major depressive episode between 2014 and 2015 was 12.3%, and the majority of these adolescents living in a low-income household. Of the 12.3% who reported these depressive episodes, 59.5 % of adolescents did not receive treatment (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2017). Unfortunately, a significant proportion of those who did not receive treatment were adolescents in low-income families. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that these disproportionate statistics can be explained by a variety of reasons: teenagers of lower socioeconomic status normally face less access to resources, less family support, and more trauma (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

My first point is in regards to lack of resources.

Lower socioeconomic status often means less access to basic resources such as counseling and therapy. There is a shortage of mental health providers for all adolescents in North Carolina; however, according to Evans-Lacko, a mental health services researcher who studies child and adolescent mental health, there are even fewer mental health resources that target lower-class populations (Evans-Lacko, et al. 2018). This leaves many struggling adolescents unable to reach out and get the help they need, and in the rare case that they do have someone to reach out to, they often do not have the funds to pay for the services that they need. We must do a better job of providing easily-accessible resources so that all teenagers can get the help that many so desperately need.

My second point refers to a lack of support.

Lack of support is another major issue that perpetuates mental health problems in adolescents in low socioeconomic families. In a 2019 study, Michael Russell and Candice Odgers researched how families in low-income households often lack strong support systems.

They concluded that if an adolescent does not have a strong relationship with their parents, they are more likely to feel isolated and depressed, and feel like they have no one to turn to cope with stress or seek advice (Russell & Odgers, 2019).

My third point addresses trauma.

North Carolina adolescents in lower social classes are more prone to enduring trauma and stressors more often than teens in middle and upper social classes. A study administered by Wadman, Hiller, and St. Claire in 2020 addressed how mistreatment and malpractice conducted by parental figures are more prominent in low-income households, and they stated that this often leads to mental health problems (Wadman, et al. 2020). The authors explain that low-income families are at higher risk of facing parental illness and neglect, as well as sexual abuse. And at the end of the day, a teenager can only face so much adversity and trauma until these aspects of their life begin to have a major negative impact on their mental well-being.

In recent years, more and more people have begun acknowledging and validating mental health problems as serious issues. However, the fact is there is a widespread health disparity that exists in our society that is ignored every day. So many North Carolina adolescents face more mental health problems than their peers do solely because of the family’s socioeconomic status.

To improve adolescent mental health, we need to begin by addressing some of the major issues in North Carolina. First, all people, regardless of income, need to have much better access to affordable healthcare, counseling resources, proper education, and overall support because taking these steps will allow more families to raise their children in a safer and more loving environment. Doing this will allow the mental health of adolescents to improve tremendously.

We, as a society, must begin by recognizing the disparity that exists in the mental health of adolescents who have decent financial status and parental support and those who do not because right now, society is letting their teenagers down, and not doing anything will only cause this discrepancy to flourish.

Thank you.


Evans-Lacko, S., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Al-Hamzawi, A., Alonso, J., Benjet, C. (2018, July). Socio-economic variations in the mental health. ProQuest (48)9, 1560-1571. DOI:10.1017/S0033291717003336.

Russell, M. A. & Odgers, C. L. (2019, April). Adolescents’ subjective social status predicts day-to-day mental health and future substance use. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 30(S2), 532-544.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Behavioral Health Barometer: North Carolina. Volume 4. HHS.

Wadman, R., Hiller, R. M., St. Clair, M. C. (2020). The influence of early familial adversity on adolescent risk behaviors and mental health: Stability and transition in family adversity profiles in a cohort sample. ProQuest, 32(2), 437-454. DOI:10.1017/S0954579419000191.

Weinberg, D., Stevens, G. W. J. M., Duihof, E. L., Finkenauer, C. (2019, September). Adolescent socioeconomic status and mental health inequalities in the Netherlands, 2001-2017. ProQuest, 16(19). DOI:10.3390/ijerph16193605.



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Hernandez-Martinez. (2016). How bullying affects someone’s emotions. Google Images.

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