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Income and psychological distress: The role of the social environment

by Heather M. Orpana, Louise Lemyre and Ronald Gravel

Abstract
Keywords
Findings
Author
What is already known on this subject?
What does this study add?

Abstract

Background

This article examines the relationship between lower income and the risk of experiencing high psychological distress over twelve years.

Data and methods

Data from the first 12 years of the longitudinal National Population Health Survey (1994/1995 through 2006/2007) were analysed. Proportional hazards modelling was conducted to determine whether lower household income was associated with a greater risk of experiencing high distress, when adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics and baseline health status. It was also used to examine the relationship between reporting a stressor and experiencing a subsequent episode of distress.

Results

Overall, 11% of the initial sample experienced at least one episode of high distress during the 12 years of the study.  Low-income respondents were at a significantly higher risk of becoming psychologically distressed, and many of the stressors were associated with a significantly higher risk of becoming distressed.  Stressors accounted for 22% of the relationship between low income and distress for men, and more than a third of this relationship for women.

Interpretation

Low income is an important risk factor for becoming psychologically distressed, and stressors account for part of this increased risk.

Keywords

psychological distress, socio-economic status, income, stressors, stress, longitudinal studies

Findings

A large body of research has focused on the poorer physical health of individuals with low income, and important differences in the mental health of these groups can also be observed. Much of this research, however, has been cross-sectional, making it difficult to determine whether low income or poor mental health comes first. As well, few studies have looked at this relationship in the Canadian context. [Full text]

Author

Heather M. Orpana (1-613-951-1650; Heather.Orpana@statcan.gc.ca) is with the Health Information and Research Division and Ronald Gravel (1-613-951-2295; Ronald.Gravel@statcan.gc.ca) is with the Health Statistics Division at Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0T6. Louise Lemyre is with the University of Ottawa.

What is already known on this subject?

  • Lower income is strongly related to individuals' mental health, including their feelings of psychological distress.
  • Stressors are more prevalent among lower income groups and may explain part of this relationship.
  • The temporal ordering of these factors has not been demonstrated in a Canadian population survey.

What does this study add?

  • This paper shows that lower income is significantly related to future episodes of high psychological distress, and that stressors mediate a modest part of this relationship.
  • The everyday social environments of low-income Canadians are implicated in health disparities.