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Economic difficulties and common mental disorders among Finnish and British white-collar employees: the contribution of social and behavioural factors
  1. E Laaksonen1,
  2. P Martikainen2,
  3. T Lallukka1,
  4. E Lahelma1,
  5. J Ferrie3,
  6. O Rahkonen1,
  7. M Marmot3,
  8. J Head3
  1. 1
    Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2
    Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3
    Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, UK
  1. E Laaksonen, Researcher, Department of Public Health, PO Box 41, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland; elina.laaksonen{at}


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 investigation of 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: Comparable survey data from the Finnish Helsinki Health Study and the British Whitehall II Study were used. 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.

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. 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.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Funding: The Helsinki Health Study is supported by Academy of Finland (#205588, #121748). The Whitehall II study has been supported by grants from the Medical Research Council; British Heart Foundation; Health and Safety Executive; Department of Health; National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (HL36310), US, NIH: National Institute on Aging (AG13196), US, NIH; Agency for Health Care Policy Research (HS06516); and the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Research Networks on Successful Midlife Development and Socio-economic Status and Health. The first author is supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation. PM (#70631 and 48600) and OR (#210435) are supported by the Academy of Finland. MM is supported by an MRC Research Professorship.

  • Ethics approval: The Helsinki Health Study has been approved by ethical committees at the Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, and at the City of Helsinki health authorities. The Whitehall II Study has been approved by the University College London ethics committee.