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Consumers' socioeconomic status may affect their response to depression treatment, study finds

Experts say lower income and education may lead to poorer treatment outcomes

Bipolar disorder and mental health concept
Photo (c) Carol Yepes - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Cincinnati explored how socioeconomic factors may affect consumers’ mental health treatment. According to their findings, those with lower incomes and less education may have poorer outcomes related to depression treatment

“If you’re going home to a wealthy neighborhood with highly educated parents or spouse, then you’re arguably in a much better environment for the treatment to be effective than if you’re going to a poor neighborhood with other problems,” said researcher Jeffrey Mills, Ph.D. 

Barriers to depression treatment

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 665 patients enrolled in the CO-MED trial. The participants reported on their socioeconomic background and all received the same access to depression treatments

The researchers identified a few socioeconomic factors that impacted the participants’ response to their mental health treatments. For starters, treatment efficacy for participants who didn’t have a college degree was roughly 10% lower than it was for college graduates. 

“We think about these things in terms of access, we think about them in terms of inequality, and I realize that education does track with those, but just having a college degree while controlling for all these other factors still had a significant impact,” said researcher Dr. Jeffrey Strawn. 

The study also showed that participants whose income was at the 25th percentile improved their mental health about 5% less than participants whose income was at the 75th percentile. Similarly, non-white participants improved their mental health 11.3% less than white participants. The researchers also learned that a combination of these socioeconomic factors was linked with a much lower improvement rate. 

Improving access to mental health care

With a better understanding of how socioeconomic factors can affect consumers’ treatment outcomes, these findings highlight the importance of improving access to mental health services and legislation regarding minimum wage and general economic policy. 

“Someone employed at a higher wage has a chance to improve their socioeconomic status and environment, and so they’re definitely less likely to get mental health problems,” Dr. Mills said. “If people with higher socioeconomic status do get mental health problems, what we’re showing is they’re more likely to improve if they get treatment.” 

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