Socioeconomic circumstances and common mental disorders among Finnish and British public sector employees: evidence from the Helsinki Health Study and the Whitehall II Study

Int J Epidemiol. 2007 Aug;36(4):776-86. doi: 10.1093/ije/dym074. Epub 2007 May 21.


Background: Common mental disorders do not always show as consistent socioeconomic gradients as severe mental disorders and physical health. This inconsistency may be due to the multitude of socioeconomic measures used and the populations and national contexts studied. We examine the associations between various socioeconomic circumstances and common mental disorders among middle-aged Finnish and British public sector employees.

Methods: We used survey data from the Finnish Helsinki Health Study (n = 6028) and the British Whitehall II Study (n = 3116). Common mental disorders were measured by GHQ-12. The socioeconomic indicators were parental education, childhood economic difficulties, own education, occupational class, household income, housing tenure and current economic difficulties. Logistic regression analysis was the main statistical method used.

Results: Childhood and current economic difficulties were strongly associated with common mental disorders among men and women in both the Helsinki and the London cohort. The more conventional indicators of socioeconomic circumstances showed weak or inconsistent associations. Differences between the two cohorts and two genders were small.

Conclusions: Our findings emphasize the importance of past and present economic circumstances to common mental disorders across different countries and genders. Overall, our results suggest that among employee populations, the socioeconomic patterning of common mental disorders may differ from that of other domains of health.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Educational Status
  • Employment*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Logistic Models
  • London
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Parents
  • Prevalence
  • Public Sector*
  • Social Class*