Socioeconomic status and severe mental disorders: a bidirectional multivariable Mendelian randomisation study

BMJ Ment Health. 2023 Nov 24;26(1):e300821. doi: 10.1136/bmjment-2023-300821.


Background: Despite the evidence supporting the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and severe mental disorders (SMD), the directionality of the associations between income or education and mental disorders is still poorly understood.

Objective: To investigate the potential bidirectional causal relationships between genetic liability to the two main components of SES (income and educational attainment (EA)) on three SMD: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (BD) and depression.

Methods: We performed a bidirectional, two-sample univariable Mendelian randomisation (UVMR) and multivariable Mendelian randomisation (MVMR) study using SES phenotypes (income, n=397 751 and EA, n=766 345) and SMD (schizophrenia, n=127 906; BD, n=51 710 and depression, n=500 119) genome-wide association studies summary-statistics to dissect the potential direct associations of income and EA with SMD.

Findings: UVMR showed that genetic liability to higher income was associated with decreased risk of schizophrenia and depression, with a smaller reverse effect of schizophrenia and depression on income. Effects were comparable after adjusting for EA in the MVMR. UMVR showed bidirectional negative associations between genetic liability to EA and depression and positive associations between genetic liability to EA and BD, with no significant effects on schizophrenia. After accounting for income, MVMR showed a bidirectional positive direction between genetic liability to EA and BD and schizophrenia but not with depression.

Conclusions: Our results suggest a heterogeneous link pattern between SES and SMD. We found a negative bidirectional association between genetic liability to income and the risk of schizophrenia and depression. On the contrary, we found a positive bidirectional relationship of genetic liability to EA with schizophrenia and BD, which only becomes apparent after adjusting for income in the case of schizophrenia.

Clinical implications: These findings shed light on the directional mechanisms between social determinants and mental disorders and suggest that income and EA should be studied separately in relation to mental illness.

Keywords: Adult psychiatry; Depression & mood disorders; Schizophrenia & psychotic disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Bipolar Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Schizophrenia* / epidemiology
  • Social Class