Unemployment, poverty and housing unaffordability correlated with a risk of mental illness

Does having a low socioeconomic status (SES) lead to depression or does depression lead a person into poverty? According to a study that examined a database of 34,000 patients with two or more psychiatric hospitalizations in Massachusetts during 1994-2000, unemployment, poverty and housing unaffordability were correlated with a risk of mental illness.

This finding is reported on in the current issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

"The poorer one's socioeconomic conditions are, the higher one's risk is for mental disability and psychiatric hospitalization," said author Christopher G. Hudson, Ph.D., of Salem State College. This was found regardless of what economic hardship or type of mental illness the person suffered.

SES was assessed on the basis of community income, education and occupational status. The study considered economic stress as one of several possible explanations for the correlation between SES and mental illness, and this was determined by how much the local income income was below the federal poverty level, the rate of unemployment, and an index of rental housing unaffordability.

This study provides strong evidence that SES impacts the development of mental illness directly, as well as indirectly through its association with adverse economic stressful conditions among lower income groups, said Dr. Hudson. Furthermore, "the study highlights the need for the continued development of preventive and early intervention strategies that pay particular attention to the devastating impacts of unemployment, economic displacement, and housing dislocation, including homelessness."

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