The association between income and distress, mental disorders, and suicidal ideation and attempts: findings from the Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys

J Clin Psychiatry. 2010 Sep;71(9):1168-75. doi: 10.4088/JCP.08m04986gry. Epub 2010 Apr 6.


Objective: To examine the relationship between household income and psychological distress, suicidal ideation and attempts, and mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

Method: Data came from the Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys, a collection of 3 nationally representative surveys of American adults conducted between 2001 and 2003. Psychological distress, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders were examined in relation to household income after adjusting for sex, marital status, race, age, and employment status.

Results: Analyses revealed an inverse association between income and psychological distress as measured by the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, with those in the lowest income quartile demonstrating significantly more distress than any of the remaining 3 income quartiles (P < .05). Subsequent analysis of DSM-IV-diagnosed psychological disorders revealed a similar pattern of results, which were particularly strong for substance use disorders (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.74; 95% CI, 1.39-2.18), suicidal ideation (AOR = 1.77; 95% CI, 1.46-2.13), and suicide attempts (AOR = 2.15; 95% CI, 1.55-2.98). The association between income and mood and anxiety disorders was less consistent, and the relationship between income and suicidal ideation differed among the 5 race categories (non-Hispanic white, Hispanic, Asian American, black, and other). Non-Hispanic white persons showed a strong, negative relationship between income and suicidal ideation (AOR = 2.15; 95% CI, 1.66-2.80), while the association was considerably weaker or nonexistent for the other races.

Conclusions: Although conclusions cannot be drawn concerning causation, the strength of associations between income, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and substance abuse points to the need for secondary prevention strategies among low-income, high-risk populations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / ethnology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Asian Americans / psychology
  • Asian Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Blacks / psychology
  • Blacks / statistics & numerical data
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / ethnology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Income*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / ethnology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Whites / psychology
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult