It is generally accepted that mental health problems are unequally distributed across population strata defined by socioeconomic status (SES), with more problems for those with lower SES. However, studies of this association in children and adolescents are often restricted by the use of global measures of mental health problems and aggregation of SES-indicators. We aim to further elucidate the relationship between childhood mental health problems and SES by including more detailed information about mental health and individual SES-indicators.
The participants (N = 5,781, age 11-13) were part of the Bergen Child Study (BCS). Mental health was assessed using the teacher, parent and self-report versions of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), including an impact section, used to measure symptom dimensions and probability of psychiatric disorders. Parent reports of family economy and parental education were used as SES measures.
For each SES indicator we confirmed an inverse relationship across all the symptom dimensions. Poor family economy consistently predicted mental health problems, while parental education level predicted externalizing disorders stronger than internalizing disorders.
In this Norwegian sample of children, family economy was a significant predictor of mental health problems as measured across a wide range of symptom dimensions and poor economy predicted a high probability of a psychiatric disorder. Longitudinal studies of the impact of low family income as well as other SES factors on externalizing and internalizing symptom dimensions and disorders are called for.