Research Finds Link Between Low Perceived Social Status and Mental Illness

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help me stopA new study has found an association between a person’s subjective social status (SSS) and that person’s risk of experiencing a psychiatric disorder. The connection was shown for all 16 mental conditions assessed and was found to be entirely independent of objective social status based on income, education, and occupation.

These findings could have enormous implications for previous studies which have largely relied on objective measures of socioeconomic status, as Kate Scott and other researchers from the University of Otago, New Zealand say objective measurements may underestimate the size of the association between social circumstances and mental health.

For their research, the team studied data from 20 surveys undertaken in 18 countries throughout Asia, the South Pacific, South America, and the USA, Europe, and the Middle East, involving a combined 56,085 individuals.

Earlier studies had suggested that internal feelings such as sham, frustration, and anxiety associated with the perception of low relative social status could increase a person’s risk of mental illness; claims which are strengthened by these new findings.

The findings showed the likelihood of having an mental disorder was increased across all participants by 2.5, 1.7, and 1.3 times among those with low, low-mid, and mid-high SSS, respectively. The association was found in all countries studied except Japan and Nigeria.

The report, published in JAMA Psychiatry, saw that adjusting for objective social status also had a large effect on the associations, but did not render them statistically insignificant. The effect of SSS on mental health was strongest in countries with the highest incomes, which the team called “interesting in light of a recent research finding that greater inequality was associated with a higher prevalence of mental disorders in a group of high-income countries.

Despite this, the team believes the differences in income equality are not enough to account for the strong association in high-income countries, because the effect was still observable after adjusting for objective social status.

The team suggests that “one contributing factor could be that advertising and media are more influential in high-income countries and that this has the effect of making social inequalities more visible and encouraging social comparisons.”

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