The German TV-Show „Hischhausens Sprechstunde“ explains in a short film during the show (beginning at 28:30 minutes) how and why someone is developing a depression. One reason, among others, being a low education. Causes and concomitant effects are difficult to separate, which is why the general scientific consensus is that social status, and thus education, is not a causal factor for mental illness, but rather a reinforcing factor. Nevertheless, there is a link between education, social status, and health. The reasons for this are outlined below. The claim turns out to be mostly true.
Socioeconomic status and health
As part of the nationwide health monitoring program for Germany, the Robert Koch Institute regularly conducts health surveys. A total of about 23,000 people from Germany aged 15 and older were surveyed about their state of health. The survey lasted from April 2019 to September 2020. The show’s explainer video says, “Less educated and socially disadvantaged people are more likely to develop depression“. But unlike the video explains the study does not show that a lower education is the cause of depression. Rather it states that more people from socially unprivileged backgrounds are more likely to suffer from depression than those from higher social classes. However, this phenomenon is not limited to mental illness. A lower social status is also a risk factor for physical illnesses.
In order to present an overall picture, average values were calculated for women and men as a whole. Originally, the study distinguished between gender as well as four age groups. The differences between the lower and upper education group are even more significant for women, which is partly due to the fact that women are exposed to additional stress and risk factors compared to men. These include poverty, disadvantages in the world of work and role overload (role as mother, employee, partner, etc.). This was described by the RKI in the Journal of Health Monitoring.
As can be seen in the graphic, the susceptibility to both physical and mental illness decreases with higher social status. Moreover, people of higher social status themselves rate their health as generally better than those of lower social class. About 82% of people from the upper social class rate their health as good. In the middle class, the figure is around 69%, and only around 59% of people from the lower social class say they have good general state of health. On average, the risk of getting a physical or mental illness is 7 percentage points higher if one comes from difficult social circumstances. The largest difference was found in the limitations due to health. While around 43% of people from difficult social backgrounds are restricted by their health, this figure is only around 24% in the highest social class.
Reasons and risks for depression
So it is legitimate to describe a correlation between education and depression. Numerous studies, such as of the American Sociological Association or the Canadian school of nursing, document that higher education is associated with a reduced likelihood of depression. The reason therefore does not lie within the illness itself. It is more about environmental factors which are different among the social classes of our society. It’s easier for someone who has a secure income and a stable social position to lead a fulfilling life. The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that right after the physiological needs come those needs that are strongly dependent on education, income and thus social status.
As the explanatory video also mentions: depression never has just one cause. Dr. Urich Hegerl, CEO of the „Deutsche Depressionshilfe“, emphasizes that there are always two sides of the same coin wich have an impact on developing depression. Those are psychosocial as well as neurological factors. The former are factors such as low self-esteem, hopelessness, insecure financial situation and loss of employment
It is difficult to find out where the higher number of people with depression in less educated groups originates. However, a comparison with other diseases shows that this phenomenon cannot be due to depression per se, but reflects a structural problem. People from lower social classes generally have an increased risk of developing diseases. This is mainly due to the lower standards of living that result from lower education and thus less qualified jobs with lower incomes.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE: Jonah Constantin Schua, Hochschule der Medien, Stuttgart (Germany)
Leave our comments, thoughts and suggestions in the box below. Take note: your respons is moderated.