Relationship between household income and mental disorders: findings from a population-based longitudinal study

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011 Apr;68(4):419-27. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.15.


Context: There has been increasing concern about the impact of the global economic recession on mental health. To date, findings on the relationship between income and mental illness have been mixed. Some studies have found that lower income is associated with mental illness, while other studies have not found this relationship.

Objective: To examine the relationship between income, mental disorders, and suicide attempts.

Design: Prospective, longitudinal, nationally representative survey.

Setting: United States general population.

Participants: A total of 34,653 noninstitutionalized adults (aged ≥20 years) interviewed at 2 time points 3 years apart.

Main outcomes: Lifetime DSM-IV Axis I and Axis II mental disorders and lifetime suicide attempts, as well as incident mental disorders and change in income during the follow-up period.

Results: After adjusting for potential confounders, the presence of most of the lifetime Axis I and Axis II mental disorders was associated with lower levels of income. Participants with household income of less than $20,000 per year were at increased risk of incident mood disorders during the 3-year follow-up period in comparison with those with income of $70,000 or more per year. A decrease in household income during the 2 time points was also associated with an increased risk of incident mood, anxiety, or substance use disorders (adjusted odds ratio, 1.30; 99% confidence interval, 1.06-1.60) in comparison with respondents with no change in income. Baseline presence of mental disorders did not increase the risk of change in personal or household income in the follow-up period.

Conclusions: Low levels of household income are associated with several lifetime mental disorders and suicide attempts, and a reduction in household income is associated with increased risk for incident mental disorders. Policymakers need to consider optimal methods of intervention for mental disorders and suicidal behavior among low-income individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Income / trends
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / economics*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology