Background: In addition to conventional indicators of socioeconomic position, material conditions such as economic difficulties are associated with mental health. However, there has been little effort to investigate explanations for these associations. This study aims to examine the association of current economic difficulties with common mental disorders (CMD) and the contribution of social and behavioural factors to this association in two cohorts of Finnish and British white-collar employees.
Methods: We used comparable survey data from the Finnish Helsinki Health Study (n=3949) and the British Whitehall II Study (n=3116). CMD were measured with the GHQ-12. Inequality indices from logistic regression analysis were used to examine the association between current economic difficulties and CMD, and the contribution of other past and present socioeconomic circumstances, health behaviours, living arrangements and work-family conflicts to this association. Inequality indices show the average change in ill-health for each step up in the level of economic difficulties. Analyses were conducted separately for men and women in each cohort.
Results: Clear associations between current economic difficulties and CMD were found. Adjusting for work-family conflicts attenuated the associations. Adjusting for indicators of past and present socioeconomic circumstances, health behaviours and living arrangements had generally negligible effects on the associations. The results were very similar among both sexes in the two cohorts.
Conclusions: Conflicts between work and family contribute to the association between economic difficulties and CMD in both Finland and Britain. Supporting people to cope not only with everyday economic difficulties but also with work-family conflicts may be important for reducing inequalities in mental health.