How does Poverty have an Impact on Clinical Depression in South Africa

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Clinical depression is a worldwide problem. It is a mental health disorder that affects mood negatively and the general outlook on life. Possible causes of depression could be genetically, biochemically, hormonal, seasonal, or situational. For South Africa, one of the causes of clinical depression is situational. Their population lives in poverty and faces many factors of poverty such as hunger, debts, living in overcrowded housing or poor conditions, being unemployed, and having the lowest levels of education. People living in poverty are exposed to a disadvantaged environment and are less likely to have access to good health care, which places them at higher risk of developing a mental disorder.

In a video interview with medical researcher Esther Sternberg, she states that someone’s environment could impact their wellbeing. She stated that your environment could impact moods, emotions, and memories. It could also impact behavior or motivation to act, facilitate or discourage interactions, and create or reduce stress. As she researched on mind-body research and their relationship with healing environments, studies show that a healthy and pleasing environment can improve mood, and have an affect on your immune system and physical health. This comes to show that there is a relationship between factors associated with poverty and mental health, as South Africa doesn't have a healthy and pleasing environment. Their population lives in poverty and faces environmental issues such as: climate variability, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, desertification-land degradation, littering, masses of waste, population growth, urbanization, pollution, poverty and health hazards.

The country’s environment is not healthy, clean, or pleasing, and these factors could trigger the symptoms of depression such as sadness or lowering one’s self esteem.Deforestation, urbanization, and water pollution are environmental issues that could have an impact on poverty, further leading to the increase of risks in clinical depression. Deforestation makes it more challenging to have access to food, urbanization makes living conditions unhealthy and unsanitary, and water pollution makes it hard to have access to drinkable water.


Deforestation is the removal of trees or a forest. South Africa has a high amount of deforestation. Each year Africa suffers a net loss of 5.3 million hectares of forests and woodlands (FAO, 2002). The number of trees being removed is high because the poor use the trees for firewood. Deforestation has also reduced the presence of wild plants used for food. These impacts affect those who rely on these trees, the poor. The decrease of trees make it challenging to have access to food or a heat source. Since the poor experience economic hardship that puts them in situations to starve or feel cold, this could trigger chronic stressors. Having high levels of stress or anxiety puts someone at risk for being diagnosed with a mental disorder (WHO,2007). One of the mental disorders that could be common is clinical depression since the population that has economic struggles depends on trees for the resources they need. The availability of their resources being decreased increases their stress of having to find a way to provide for themselves or their family.

In a mini-documentary film about a young 13-year-old girl, Tambudzai, she talks about a day in her life of living in her small village in Mozambique, South Africa. Due to deforestation, she states that she has even less food than usual since she’d have 3 full ox carts of maize to last her a year of food for her and her family, but now only has half on one cot. She has less food because her land where she grows food became dry due to the loss of trees and decrease in rain, from deforestation. This has decreased her food supply for the year and now her family has limited food and will often starve.

According to national geographic, “Forest soils are moist, but without protection from sun-blocking tree cover, they quickly dry out. Trees also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor to the atmosphere. Without trees to fill these roles, many former forest lands can quickly become barren deserts.” Since the trees are cut down by people in poverty who depend on them, this makes the land dry out since there are no trees to protect it. When one part of land dries out, this affects other plants and trees, making the soil no good and overall causing deforestation. This shows that there is a harmful relationship between deforestation and poverty, since forests are their main source of survival needs, but they have no choice and need trees and plants to provide for their family. Knowing that their practices are destructive, but they are left with no choice, places stress on them, which could trigger depression. According to the World Health Organization, stressful living conditions place people at higher risk of developing a mental disorder. This applies especially to people living in poverty because they deal with financial struggles and lack resources to maintain basic living standards. These factors could trigger high amounts of stress or anxiety in the person living in an adverse environment, such as South Africa. Deforestation is linked with poverty and mental health, but that is not the only environmental issue linked with these issues. Deforestation has declined agricultural opportunities, which was a push factor for people to migrate to cities or urban areas.


Urbanization is another environmental issue in South Africa that is linked with poverty, further affecting the cause of depression. According to Statista, in 2017, 65.78% of South Africa’s total population lived in urban areas and cities. This means that there has been mass migration to cities in South Africa over years, but the outcome has not been pretty. Since South Africa lacks financial resources and has weak institutional capabilities, this poses a risk of increasing poverty, insecurity, instability, and environmental degradation. (UN-Habit 2012).

When there is a fairly large population living in one city altogether, it makes it more challenging to seek survival needs, it is dangerous, and the living conditions are poor and unsanitary. This is because people live in overcrowded conditions. When a city is overcrowded, it becomes more challenging to meet your needs and stay healthy. Urbanization poses a health issue as the environment of overcrowded cities is not safe.

According to Michael Darkoh, a researcher of environmental science, he states that “migrants tend to settle in over-crowded, unsanitary and unhealthy conditions with waste almost impossible to manage and dispose of. In Mozambique, at least half the urban population lives in squalor along the river banks under some of the most unsanitary housing conditions.” The housing conditions are unsanitary since waste isn't disposed of properly, and with overcrowded living, there is a large mass of waste along with where people settle. This exposes people to the risk of getting airborne diseases from contaminated people or even developing depression. This is because the people in urbanized cities are living in poor conditions, stressing or worrying about providing and protecting their families.

According to the World Health Organization, “common mental disorders are common more prevalent for people living in poor and overcrowded housing”. Overcrowded housing could trigger chronic stressors and decrease someone’s happiness towards their life. The unsanitary conditions of overcrowded living do not only pose a health issue on land, but it also poses a problem of pollution in water.

Water Pollution

Water pollution is an environmental issue in South Africa that has a relationship with poverty and the risk factors of depression. Water pollution is caused by the population of people and their improper way of disposing of waste. In How Does Water Pollution Affect Humans, the author stresses that freshwater sources are being threatened by water pollution because humans are dirtying the resource that living things need in order to live. The main causes of water pollution are the discharge of untreated raw sewage, chemicals released into water from factories, agricultural runoffs into the water, urbanization, oil spills, and littering. If polluted or contaminated water is consumed by humans, they will experience the effects of it immediately by feeling severely sick, getting water-borne diseases, or slowly die due to damage of major organs.

South Africa suffers from the environmental issues of water pollution, as they experience urbanization, littering, and not proper disposal of their wastes. Water pollution is a factor that puts stress on the people that depend on the limited water they have, possibly increasing the risk of depression since they stress not having access to water. South Africa already struggles with having clean drinking water because their land is very dry with few drinking spots, and those spots are most of the time already contaminated. (Tambudzai, 2007). Water is a necessity humans need and can’t go a week without it or they’ll die. Having this necessity limited due to water pollution puts stress on poor families who don’t have the money to buy water.

Poor people in South Africa often don’t know if the water they drink is safe, but they drink it anyway because their body needs water. This can trigger high amounts of worry and stress since they put their life at risk for the water that is challenging to find. South Africa’s poor population deals with a variety of environmental issues that could impact their mental and physical health in negative ways such as developing depression or having their health at risk since it is challenging to meet their survival needs.


Deforestation, urbanization, and water pollution are environmental issues that could have an impact on poverty, further leading to the increase of risks in clinical depression. Deforestation makes it more challenging to have access to food, urbanization makes living conditions unhealthy and unsanitary, and water pollution makes it hard to have access to drinkable water.

A solution to decreasing deforestation is to enforce laws in certain areas of large forests that would fine whoever tries to cut down trees, decreasing urbanization by getting the government involved in developing rural areas to have migrates stay there instead of cities, and decreasing water pollution by enforcing anti-pollution laws and policies. However, these solutions may be hindered due to the low economic status of the country and their weak government involvement. Thus, the responsibility to making changes is in the hands of those who are aware of these issues; they should try to find a solution by coming together as a community to benefit the wellbeing and mental health of all people in South Africa.

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How does poverty have an impact on clinical depression in South Africa. (2021, Oct 08). Retrieved June 19, 2024 , from

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