The Disturbing Dark Threesome of Poverty, Physical and Mental Health

Poverty is a sleeping demon in Australia, we try to ignore it and plunge our heads in the sand but it is there and we need to acknowledge it be start fighting it on a national level.

Benjie Sacchetta | 24 June 2020

What the media portrays as Poverty is in fact Poverty but it is 10% of the scope of Poverty. They think if they show us what is going on in third world countries that we won’t see the Poverty that is happening in Australia because it doesn’t look like the Poverty that is shown by the media.

Poverty in a first world nation can mean not being able to pay your rent. Poverty in Australia means lying to different government agencies because you just need that extra money to survive. Poverty in Australia is someone who earns 45k a year but still has to get a pay day loan so that they can buy their kids new school uniforms or so that they can fill their pantry for the first time in 6 months.

In 2017/18: 3.24 million people (13.6% of the population or over one in eight) are estimated to be living below the poverty line, after taking account of their housing costs.

– 2020 Poverty in Australia Overview by UNSW Sydney’s Social Policy Research Centre and the Australian Council of Social Services

In Australia there are a lot of mitigating factors as to why Poverty occurs. Whether it be income based, education level based, housing based, health based or inadequate access to appropriate services. Every persons experience with Poverty is different. There are 2 main factors that effect people’s ability to lift themselves out of poverty; their physical health and their mental health. 

My Journey

I was born into poverty. I am the product of Italian/Yugoslavian immigrants and Scottish/Welsh immigrants. My dad’s side is the Scottish and Welsh side, I’ve never really known much about his side of the family, I know they came to South Australia from Victoria when my dad was a teenager, my grandma ran a pub kitchen, my grandpa served in the army for a period of time but even then we were never comfortable. We just “got by.” My dad has eight brothers and sisters who I don’t recall ever meeting. The main reason being, they were from my Grandma’s first marriage.

As for my mum’s side, I don’t know much about my Nonno’s journey to Adelaide but he made his way here to avoid the tensions and war erupting in Italy under Mussolini. My Nonna was six years old when she ran from Yugoslavia with her younger brother Sergio who was four at the time. She unfortunately lost her little brother for a while but thankfully was able to find him again. She spent the next 6 years going through seven different countries and about 10 different camps before her older brothers found her in Bonagilla in Melbourne and she was finally able to settle with her family.

My  Nonno was a train driver and he earned good money but as much as I love him to this day he was extremely dodgy with his money and withheld quite a substantial from the house hold, this lead to my Nonna working 3 different jobs to be able to get by.

My Mum was the second of three kids born to my grandparents. At this point in time, Italians and Europeans were not treated well by the “white” Australians. My mum started school knowing pretty much no English what so ever, so she spent most of her school life bullied about what she looked like and where she was from.

My mum got her first job at a milk bar at 15-years-old so she could have a little bit of her own money so she could actually buy herself some fashionable clothes instead all of her clothes being made my Nonna. Don’t get me wrong my Nonna was qualified seamstress but she was a very conventional older European lady she wasn’t at the forefront teen fashion.

My Mum had aspirations of going to Uni and becoming a translator using her natural ability with the Italian language. Things didn’t work out that way as she met my dad and they fell pregnant quite young and had me and my brother two years apart. The marriage fell apart and my mum raised us predominantly. We saw my dad every fortnight plus he was always at all the sports and what not.

Both of the houses we were raised in were not flash at all, my mum was with a housing co-op for low-income earners and Dad lived in a housing trust semi detached unit. Dad was on the Disability Support Pension and Mum was on Single Parent Pension, there were weeks when we managed to get through the week and then some weeks we didn’t know if we were going to have dinner that night or lunch for school the next day.

I’ve spent most of my life not knowing if we would have enough money to eat or to pay rent, it’s just a way of life we became accustomed to. I grew up and learnt to make it work and to hussle to get by from a very young age and that’s been my life ever since.

My mental health issues also began when I was very young, about 10-years-old. Living in poverty is one of the biggest obstacles you can face. If you don’t have money to buy good healthy nutritional food, you just sink lower in despair. When you don’t have enough money to make sure that you can buy a weeks worth of groceries, your anxiety gets worse and worse because you have to try and figure out how in the blue hell you are going to put dinner on the table every day. So you start skipping meals and as I said before it just becomes just a way of life.

Growing up my mum fed us what she could, we didn’t get brand name food we got old school black and white Homebrand food. Most meals we ate were the same meals for sometimes up to 6 months because mum somehow got something in bulk at one of the community food banks or my uncle dropped by with some meat he managed to get his hands on.

Poverty has been a direct correlation to both my mental and physical health. I was constantly ill growing up because I wasn’t getting enough nutrients from healthy meals, I was always a bigger person, people have always assumed that I was and am big because I have only ever eating junk food but it’s the furthest thing from the truth. We couldn’t afford McDonald’s or Hungry Jack’s or Pizza or any of that stuff, the only time we got that sort of food was if my Nonna came to visit or I got best player in soccer or football and I got a free happy meal voucher. 

Poverty compounds mental illness which then progresses into physical ailments, you can not strive to fight your way out of poverty if you wake up every morning wondering what’s the point of even being here, when you wake up with those thoughts in your head your physical symptoms become even more debilitating but you can’t go and get those symptoms fixed or even a plan to get them fixed because when you live in poverty you can’t afford private health insurance or the fee to see someone privately so you rely on an already overwhelmed public health system where depending on what departments you need can take up to 2 years and possibly more just to get a first appointment.

If you require physiotherapy or something similar you get 6 visits for the entire year, I’d really love to meet someone who can rehab an injury in six sessions over 12 months. When you see your doctor for a mental health care plan you get 10 sessions with just a psychologist how are you meant to make any progress with just 10 sessions, how are you meant to address your trauma properly in that short period, if you are wanting to see a Psychiatrist then you have to try and hunt down a Psychiatrist that somehow bulk bills and don’t think you will be getting regular appointments because they are also so overwhelmed that you are looking at appointments that can range from every 3-6 months.

I am saying this as someone who has gone through all of this, I have experienced everything I have written in this article. I have tried to end my life 3 times, I have been institutionalised, I have waited 9 months to see a surgeon to fix my shoulder even though it dislocated when I sneezed. I have little to no feeling in my right hand because of a botched surgery at a public hospital. I have lived this life and I still am because poverty, poor mental health and poor physical health is a vicious cycle that is almost impossible to break, so much so, you just want to give up.

The social security system in this country needs to change to help the most vulnerable in our society instead of putting up more and more barriers, otherwise we will never have a truly equal and compassionate country.

Thank you for reading.

Benjie Sacchetta 

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