Class and Psychology: Socioeconomic Trends in Mental and Social Health

So many factors go into our mental health and well-being. Environment, social ties and family dynamics, access to green space, physical health, leisure time, diet and nutrition, financial peace of mind, career situation, and sense of ability to influence one’s own fate all play a role. If you re-read that list, you’ll notice that many have socioeconomic ties. Access to education, career preparation and a good job give people greater control in creating homes and lives that are safe, healthy, and uplifting. Conversely, lack of those resources may make one feel hopeless and downtrodden, not to mention stressed and anxious.

One particular group that’s identified as at-risk for mental health concerns is very specific: urban black fathers who are unmarried. A study from the University of Michigan has found that this group of men is 50% more likely to be depressed than their male counterparts in the general population. Unmarried men living in urban areas are also more likely to be low income and to have completed a low level of education. These are not only depression factors in themselves, but their unfortunate overlap is that people of lower income levels are less likely to have access to therapy or counseling. The ongoing survey starts at the hospital with the birth of a child and continues to follow parents for five years. Unmarried fathers exhibit especially high hopes for their family, but their depression rates rise consistently during those next five years. The longer the depression goes on without counseling, the more it interferes with those hopes, effectively making the depression worse.

While the social and mental health impacts of poverty are increasingly well-documented, another study has highlighted an interesting class difference in which upper-class people are deficient: people with greater financial security, job prospects, and educational achievement are not so good at recognizing others’ emotions. Researchers hypothesize that because upper-class people are less reliant on the assistance and trustworthiness of others to get through daily life (such as paying for daycare instead of relying on a family member), they’re simply less attentive to ‘reading’ others. In each of these cases, environment and resources influence how people see and interact with the world. This is relevant to therapists and counselors because the better the mental health community understands where people are coming from, the better those people can be helped.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • grisham a

    grisham a

    November 25th, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    although I do agree with what is said here,there are a lot of people out there who are more influenced by their attitude and outlook towards life. a person may not have all the materialistic wealth but he may be a happy person and hence one with good mental health. conversely there are a lot of well to do people who are distraught and live a depressed life.

  • Shane

    Shane

    November 25th, 2010 at 10:45 PM

    There’s a lot to be said for having a good woman at your side. I have always loved being married. My wife’s wise counsel has saved me from the depths of depression many a time. We both have good days and bad, and we face them together. She’s been depressed herself before and understands.

  • Gemma

    Gemma

    November 25th, 2010 at 11:05 PM

    ” Researchers hypothesize that because upper-class people are less reliant on the assistance and trustworthiness of others to get through daily life (such as paying for daycare instead of relying on a family member), they’re simply less attentive to ‘reading’ others. ”

    That’s a nice way to say it. Truth is, people with money tend to be self-absorbed and materialistic. It’s not that they can’t read others. They just can’t be bothered. That’s my POV.

  • S.Price

    S.Price

    November 26th, 2010 at 2:22 AM

    This is why an all-inclusive health-care program is necessary…It will ensure universal coverage for all without any kind of disadvantage to anyone…If only we had plans that are atleast close to perfect…

  • amy

    amy

    November 26th, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    could this sense of hopelessness then play out in the high crime rates that many of these same areas experience?

  • DONALD

    DONALD

    November 26th, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    There is no doubt that members of certain groups are more susceptible to such issues and problems.And it is therefore necessary to introduce special programs for such marginalized populations for the common good of all because when there is a lot of gap between people crime rate goes up…!

  • Lyle

    Lyle

    November 26th, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    Any person who is living an upper class lifestyle is paying the price of that: increased responsibility at work brings increased stress and longer hours. It’s hard to be attentive to reading others if you’re working on a multimillion dollar project and overseeing hundreds of staff. Only so many things can command your attention at the same time.

  • Harry

    Harry

    November 26th, 2010 at 9:54 PM

    Playing “how are you feeling today” is not top of my to-do list when I get home from work. Just tell me! I can’t stand people that want you to drag it out of them instead of being upfront. It can’t be that hard to articulate: I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m upset. I’m depressed. See? Easy. My wife plays that game and it drives me nuts.

  • AdRiAn

    AdRiAn

    November 26th, 2010 at 11:59 PM

    This disparity is not a good thing for society as a whole…the gap needs to be shortened…we need to find out why certain people are more prone to such things and fix those reasons right…only then can we boast of an equal society…!

  • Laura

    Laura

    November 27th, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    Harry: See that word inattentive? That’s a clue for you. Your wife is wanting your attention. She’s looking for interaction. She doesn’t want to give a monologue. You should have married David Letterman if that was what you wanted in a wife. Give her a little conversation and pay attention. (Good to know that upper class wives have the same relationship problems as us lower class wives!)

  • Toby

    Toby

    November 27th, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    Unfortunately it seems that more and more the people who have the least are the ones who are always going to be left behind. They are never going to be in as good of a financil footing as many of the rest of us are and they will never have the access to health care that the way many of us do. Who is going to pick up the tab for them when most of us are struggling to make ends meet ourselves? It does not seem fair to have all of these people with such alarmingly low rates of health care but at the same time I think that there are many of us out there who are facing the same things but maybe not quite as critically as others. There are no easy answers here.

  • Alton

    Alton

    November 27th, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    They need to get out from behind their video games and computers and meet real people. This is not a class issue. It’s a lifestyle issue. Most unmarried man I know are glued to the TV or PC and wonder why they are depressed. We’re social animals! Don’t go against nature. Be sociable. It will help you feel better.

  • Kayla

    Kayla

    November 28th, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    @Alton- great advice for anyone!

  • KT

    KT

    November 29th, 2010 at 4:30 AM

    The very sense of community help has gone from people’s minds and I second what Alton has said here above.

  • Shannon

    Shannon

    November 29th, 2010 at 5:41 AM

    Working in a hospital setting I have seen all walks of life come through those doors facing anxiety and depression and raceor economics played no role in it at all. There are so many other factors that should be examined before lumping everyone from one community or one strata into the same broad boat together! Mental health issues are those which can confront all ages and class groups and to intimate that one is affected more than others in my opinion is wrong and may convince someone who really needs help that he or she does not because they do not fit the “type”.

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