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Scott KM, Al-Hamzawi AO, Andrade LH, et al. Associations Between Subjective Social Status and DSM-IV Mental Disorders: Results From the World Mental Health Surveys. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(12):1400–1408. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1337
The inverse social gradient in mental disorders is a well-established research finding with important implications for causal models and policy. This research has used traditional objective social status (OSS) measures, such as educational level, income, and occupation. Recently, subjective social status (SSS) measurement has been advocated to capture the perception of relative social status, but to our knowledge, there have been no studies of associations between SSS and mental disorders.
To estimate associations of SSS with DSM-IV mental disorders in multiple countries and to investigate whether the associations persist after comprehensive adjustment of OSS.
Design, Setting, and Participants
Face-to-face cross-sectional household surveys of community-dwelling adults in 18 countries in Asia, South Pacific, the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East (N = 56 085). Subjective social status was assessed with a self-anchoring scale reflecting respondent evaluations of their place in the social hierarchies of their countries in terms of income, educational level, and occupation. Scores on the 1 to 10 SSS scale were categorized into 4 categories: low (scores 1-3), low-mid (scores 4-5), high-mid (scores 6-7), and high (scores 8-10). Objective social status was assessed with a wide range of fine-grained objective indicators of income, educational level, and occupation.
Main Outcomes and Measures
The Composite International Diagnostic Interview assessed the 12-month prevalence of 16 DSM-IV mood, anxiety, and impulse control disorders.
The weighted mean survey response rate was 75.2% (range, 55.1%-97.2%). Graded inverse associations were found between SSS and all 16 mental disorders. Gross odds ratios (lowest vs highest SSS categories) in the range of 1.8 to 9.0 were attenuated but remained significant for all 16 disorders (odds ratio, 1.4-4.9) after adjusting for OSS indicators. This pattern of inverse association between SSS and mental disorders was significant in 14 of 18 individual countries, and in low-, middle-, and high-income country groups but was significantly stronger in high- vs lower-income countries.
Conclusions and Relevance
Significant inverse associations between SSS and numerous DSM-IV mental disorders exist across a wide range of countries even after comprehensive adjustment for OSS. Although it is unclear whether these associations are the result of social selection, social causation, or both, these results document clearly that research relying exclusively on standard OSS measures underestimates the steepness of the social gradient in mental disorders.
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