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Income & Mental Health: Can Higher Wages Treat Depression, Reduce Suicides?

Dr Soumitra Pathare talks cash transfer programmes, living wage, and their links to depression, and suicide.

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Mind It
3 min read

Video editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj

Is there a link between income and mental health?

Can financial intervention help reduce the risk of depression and lower the rate of suicide in countries like India?

Dr Soumitra Pathare, consultant psychiatrist and Director of Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy at ILS, speaks to FIT about recent studies that point to the positive impact of cash transfer programmes and higher living wages on the mental health of populations involved, particularly when it comes to depression and suicides.

Below are some excerpts of my conversation with Dr Pathare.

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Raising Wages: Not Just a Social, But a Mental Health Intervention

"Suicide rates among those who got the cash transfer was 60 percent lower than the others."
Dr Soumitra Pathare

Studies that have looked at data from recent cash transfer programmes implemented in low and middle income countries have found that it also has an impact on the mental health of the population involved, apart from—the perhaps more obvious— social and economic impact.

Dr Pathare speaks of the cash transfer programme in Brazil–the results of which were on par with medical intervention for depression.

"I remember when I wrote about it in an article for a journal, the editor sent it back saying that 'can you check your number, they don't seem to be right,'" he says.

"We dont know of any mental health intervention for suicide which reduces suicide rates by 60 percent."
Dr soumitra Pathare

He goes on to say, "so clearly, the idea that people should not be living in poverty seems to not only help the poverty, health, education, but also helps reduce suicides."

Minimum wage vs Living Wage

Dr Pathare also speaks of studies that have looked at data from the UK after they raised their minimum wage to what is now known as 'living wage'.

Breaking down the results of the studies, he explains, "What they found was that people who received minimum wage, as opposed to those who did not receive it, had an almost 47 percent less risk of having depressive symptoms."

"More importantly, the effect (of higher living wages) on depressive symptoms was a standard deviation of 0.35 or 0.37. And just to put this into context, the standard deviation when you treat people with antidepressants is 0.39," he adds.

"So, the minimum wage had as much effect on depressive symptoms in that population, especially low wage population, as giving out antidepressants would."
Dr Soumitra Pathare

What About India?

Dr Pathare believes this data can be extrapolated to India as well.

"I think we should be able to apply it to India as well," he says. "These are countries with very similar economic growth, so why should it not work in India?"

"But we won't know unless we do it," he adds.

"Indians only make up one sixth or one seventh of the world population, but we account for close to one third of the world suicides."
Dr soumitra Pathare

Dr Pathare goes on to talk about the Suicide demography of India and makes a case for seriously looking at policy measures like cash transfer programmes and higher living wages as mental health treatment interventions rather than measures for just socio-economic upliftment.

"Countries like India, really do need to invest in such broad, public policy social solutions, because then we should reduce the burden on our healthcare system which is anyway suffering from understaffing and is under-resourced in many ways," he explains.

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