The Intertwined Relationship between Physical Health, Mental Health, and Poverty

There is a growing understanding of the interrelated relationship between both physical and mental health. Having poor mental health can often lead to negative physical health, and poor physical health can impact one's psychological well-being.

At “Bootcamps for Change”, we view poverty as a cause and consequence of ill-health. Our main areas of focus are mental illness and physical health, exercise and good mental health; the impact of unemployment on health; and the importance of resiliency, by creating positive habits for physical and mental health for at-risk youth. We facilitate in-shelter fitness and employment programs for youth experiencing homelessness: I was inspired to find this organization after fitness had greatly impacted my own physical, and therefore mental health. Shine the Light On has been kind enough to have supported us in the past, when we put on a mental health panel with members from NewView Collective.

Homeless youth are found to have increased future risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and musculoskeletal disorders; and lack of hygiene, stress around living conditions, and poor nutrition contribute to increased risk of respiratory infections, viruses, and diseases. Stressors associated with poverty and homelessness have been correlated with the onset of cardiovascular disease, chronic illnesses, and diabetes (Hwang et al., 2010; Marmot & Wilkinson, 2006; McEwan, 2004; Mikkonen & Raphael, 2010).Organizing accessible physical activity for at-risk youth on a consistent basis is essential for overall strength, mental well-being, and the prevention of illness and disease.

Physical health is intertwined with mental health, as those who experience less stress get sick less often, and in turn, are more productive at work and take less sick days to avoid financial difficulty. Youth experiencing poverty are more likely to be physically ill due to little physical exercise opportunities in shelters. This can then in turn become time away from work due to poor physical or mental health, thus continuing the poverty cycle.

Homelessness can result in social exclusion which then contributes to diminished quality social support, increased risk health behaviours and compromised physical and psychological health outcomes. Social exclusion is an inability to participate fully in the economic, cultural, social and political aspects of a society. Approximately 75.7% of homeless youth in Canada are unemployed (Without a Home, 2016) compared to 11% of the average Canadian youth population (Trading Economics, 2019). Research shows that there is a direct correlation between one’s social structure and their health (both physical and mental). Sociologists have long known that healthy human living is grounded in having meaningful emplacement within society.

The homeless and marginalized face barriers to improve their employment status, providing them with livelihood to improve their health. Bootcamps for Change promotes economic mobility to address this through our #SweatierForTheBetter Scholarship Program. We hire youth experiencing homelessness to teach their peers fitness classes, after we have supported them in education and mentorship.

Mental health issues strongly relate to broader issues regarding homelessness, as these problems may undermine one’s ability to obtain and/or maintain housing, income, and other necessary supports. In the other direction, health status can contribute to homelessness. For example, certain health conditions (e.g., mental health issues) may influence the onset of homelessness and worsen the homeless state.

Youth experiencing homelessness are more likely to experience mental health challenges including anxiety and depression. When experiencing these challenges, it is not only hard to explain gaps in employment but also feel motivated or confident in improving one’s financial situation. Exercise has been shown to improve one’s mental health and confidence significantly. When youth improve their confidence with our programs, they can gain resilience and self-confidence to seek out new skills to improve their livelihood.

Bootcamps for Change wants to alleviate the incidence of ill-health with accessible, inclusive fitness programs - allowing them to move more. Youth who live in poverty are at increased risk of falling behind on many health outcomes. All youth deserve the support, resources, and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.

In conclusion, through studies and research it is shown that mental and physical health are often interrelated and can have a profound influence on one another. This especially can occur in those who experience unemployment or poverty, as both experiences have been linked to poor mental health, and therefore physical health issues as well. This is why being resilient, encouraging good habits early on for mental and physical health are important to help adopt and maintain good health through the struggles youth may face, such as homelessness or poverty; a problem our organization is solving.

Written by: Katie Heggtveit

katie@bootcampsforchange.com