Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Mental Health

Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson, we'll talk about the relationship between mental health and socioeconomic status. We'll look at how factors like poverty and unemployment are a significant cause of mental illness.

Socioeconomic Status and Mental Health

What is the relationship between money and mood? If you're a mental health researcher, you've probably given this question a lot of thought. In this lesson, we'll discuss the relationship between factors like income and poverty and the prevalence of mental health issues.

Mental health is a broad category that refers to our mental well-being. Mental illness refers to a number of different conditions that impact our mood, our emotions, our thinking, and our affect. Depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are all examples of mental health conditions.

Socioeconomic status (SES) is a term that social scientists use to capture a number of different factors. It refers to a person's income level, education, and general position in society. It's essentially a combined measure of how we're doing.

One thing that most social science research agrees upon is that lower socioeconomic status is related to higher levels of mental illness. Researchers have found this relationship to hold constant for almost any mental illness, from rare conditions like schizophrenia to more common mental illnesses like depression.

This is known as a negative correlation in research terms. In other words, as one variable increases, the other decreases. In this case, as SES decreases, the incidence of mental health issues generally increases.

Researchers call this a social determinant of health, meaning that our health (including our mental health) is not simply the result of good genes or a healthy diet. Rather, there are social factors that contribute to how healthy we are. These social factors come from both our environment and our social world.

Economic Factors and Prevalence of Illness

Social psychologists and other social scientists who study mental health have identified a number of socioeconomic factors that increase the possibility that we will experience mental illness.

One factor is general economic insecurity. This refers to things like poverty, meaning an individual does not earn enough money to survive comfortably. Unemployment is another big factor that can contribute to increased mental illness.

Economic insecurity has been linked to stress, which in turn is thought to be related to higher incidences of mental health issues. Children from families who are very poor have been found to show signs of increased anxiety and stress later in life. Studies have also shown that people who live in poor accommodations, such as homes and apartments with mold or structural problems, are more likely to experience depression. In particular, researchers have found that women in substandard housing are more likely than men to experience depression. This is likely due to the fact that women on average earn less than men and are more likely to be the primary caregivers for children.

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