The Link Between Household Income and Mental Health

In the past, research has produced mixed results regarding the correlations between lower income households, substance abuse rates, suicide risks, and mental health deficits. While some studies have generated an association between low income and mental illness, others have simultaneously found no such relationship. Because of the looming economic crisis, researchers at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and the University of Regina in Saskatchewan conducted a longitudinal study on a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population to identify possible associations between household income, mental illness, and suicide attempts during the population’s current climate. Using the U.S. National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions—the largest longitudinal mental health survey involving the U.S. population—lead researcher Dr. Jitender Sareen and colleagues studied the data gathered from a total of 34,653 American adult survey participants who had not received treatment for a mental health condition and were interviewed twice within a three-year period. Their findings were published in the April issue of the scientific journal Archives of General Psychiatry. In their study, researchers controlled variable factors that could possibly affect the outcomes for lifetime DSM-IV Axis I disorders (like depression and anxiety disorders), Axis II mental disorders (such as developmental and personality disorders), lifetime suicide attempts, incident mental disorders, as well as changes in income during the research period. As a result, researchers found that individuals with a household income less than $20,000 per year were at increased risk of several lifetime mental health disorders and suicide attempts compared to those participants who earned an annual income of $70,000 or more. Additionally, participants who experienced a drop in household income during the research period were associated with an increased risk of substance use disorders, anxiety, or mood disorders compared to those participants who experienced no change in income. On the other hand, those participants who experienced an increase in income during the three-year period were not affected by any change in their risk for mental health disorders. Because of their findings, the researchers state that intervention methods to prevent and treat poor mental health among low-income populations need to be more readily available to the public. Those individuals who have an annual household income of $20,000 or less, or who have experienced significant declines in their incomes are at the greatest risk of several psychopathological deficits. The study results, the researchers suggest, should help influence policymaking decisions regarding the nation’s future public health implications.

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