Background: Understanding how common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression vary with socio-economic circumstances as people age can help to identify key intervention points. However, much research treats these conditions as a single disorder when they differ significantly in terms of their disease burden. This paper examines the socio-economic pattern of anxiety and depression separately and longitudinally to develop a better understanding of their disease burden for key social groups at different ages.
Method: The Twenty-07 Study has followed 4510 respondents from three cohorts in the West of Scotland for 20 years and 3846 respondents had valid data for these analyses. Hierarchical repeated-measures models were used to investigate the relationship between age, social class and the prevalence of anxiety and depression over time measured as scores of 8 or more out of 21 on the relevant subscale of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).
Results: Social class differences in anxiety and depression widened with age. For anxiety there was a nonlinear decrease in prevalence with age, decreasing more slowly for those from manual classes compared to non-manual, whereas for depression there was a non-linear increase in prevalence with age, increasing more quickly for those from manual classes compared to non-manual. This relationship is robust to cohort, period and attrition effects.
Conclusions: The more burdensome disorder of depression occurs more frequently at ages where socio-economic inequalities in mental health are greatest, representing a 'double jeopardy' for older people from a manual class.