Mental Health
Feeling poor may be better predictor of mental illness than being poor
Nov 23, 2006 - 10:56:37 PM

More subjective measures of socio-economic position may be needed in order to predict the likelihood of people developing common mental illnesses, such as depression, a UK study has found.

There is a higher prevalence of common mental disorders among people in lower socio-economic groups. However, it is unclear whether low socio-economic position is associated with increased risk of a new episode of mental disorder, or with a worse outcome.

This longitudinal study, published in the August issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, set out to investigate the issue among the general population. 2406 participants were interviewed at two time points 18 months apart. The sample was divided into two groups, according to whether they had a mental illness at the start of the study or not.

The mental illnesses studied were those most commonly found in general practice and in the community – depression, anxiety, and mixed anxiety and depression.

The measurement of socio-economic position took into account social class, education and standard of living, as well as other variables such as marital status, type of family unit and employment status.

None of the socio-economic indicators studied was found to be significantly associated with an episode of common mental disorder at follow-up, after baseline psychiatric illness was taken into account.

The analysis of separate diagnostic categories showed that subjective financial difficulties at baseline were independently associated with depression at follow-up in both groups.

These findings are consistent with research suggesting that subjective measures of standard of living may be equally important in the relationship between socio-economic position and common mental disorders, compared with more objective measures of income or wealth.

The effects on mental health of objective measures of socio-economic position, such as income or occupational social class, may have been overestimated.

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