Social hierarchy and depression: the role of emotion suppression

J Psychol. 2012 Jul-Aug;146(4):417-36. doi: 10.1080/00223980.2011.652234.


Position in the social hierarchy is a major determinant of health outcomes. We examined the associations between aspects of social hierarchy and depressive symptoms with a specific focus on one potential psychological mechanism: emotion suppression. Suppressing negative emotion has mental health costs, but individuals with low social power and low social status may use these strategies to avoid conflict. Study 1 assessed perceived social power, tendency to suppress negative emotion, and depressive symptoms in a community sample of women. Low social power was related to greater depressive symptoms, and this relationship was partially mediated by emotion suppression. Study 2 examined education as a proxy for social hierarchy position, anger suppression, and depressive symptoms in a national, longitudinal cohort study (The coronary artery risk development in young adults [CARDIA] study; Cutter et al., 1991). Much as in study 1, low education levels were correlated with greater depressive symptoms, and this relationship was partially mediated by anger suppression. Further, suppression mediated the relationship between low education and subsequent depression up to 15 years later. These findings support the theory that social hierarchy affects mental health in part through a process of emotion suppression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / ethnology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Educational Status
  • Emotions*
  • Ethnicity / psychology
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Hierarchy, Social*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health / ethnology
  • Middle Aged
  • San Francisco
  • Sex Distribution
  • Social Perception
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Young Adult