Objective: Longitudinal prospective data from the multisite Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) survey were examined to determine relationships between mental disorders, alcohol abuse or dependence, and transfer payments for disability.
Methods: ECA respondents who were not receiving disability benefits at baseline but who were receiving them at the one-year follow-up were identified. The effects of six psychiatric disorders on the risk of starting payments were examined. They were major depressive disorder, panic disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence, phobic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. The odds of starting to receive payments were calculated for persons with these disorders, any mental or addictive disorder, or any two or more disorders, while the analysis controlled for sociodemographic characteristics.
Results: A total of 15,567 people were interviewed at baseline; 7 percent received disability payments. Among the 11, 981 people interviewed at one year, 261 had begun to receive payments that year, for a starting rate of 2.2 percent. Significant predictors of the initiation of payments were little education (odds ratio=3.7) and low household income (OR=2.6). Respondents with panic disorder were 5.2 times more likely to begin receiving benefits than those without this disorder; respondents with schizophrenia were 4.5 times more likely and those with two or more disorders were 2.8 times more likely to start benefits than those without these disorders.
Conclusions: Differences in social class influenced the initiation of disability payments. However, having a mental or addictive disorder was a more significant predictor, strongly increasing the risk of receiving payments. Given the economic burden to society and potential loss of earnings and opportunity costs for persons with disability and their families, intervening to prevent or alleviate mental disorders should be considered as one alternative to reducing disability payments.