Background Social and financial environment has an influence on the incidence of depression. We studied perceived financial strain as a risk factor for development of depression among a large cohort of young women in Southampton, UK.
Methods We recruited a large number of young women in Southampton in the Southampton Women's Survey, a longitudinal study looking at factors influencing the health of women and their offspring. Women were asked to complete a baseline questionnaire, which included the GHQ-12 (an assessment of mental health), as well as questions on perceived financial strain and past history of depression. They were followed up two years later through their general practitioner (GP) records for evidence of incident mental illness.
Results A total of 7020 women completed the baseline questionnaire including the GHQ-12. Of these, 5237 (74.6%) had records available for follow-up. Among those developing depression, there was a higher proportion receiving benefits, and a higher level of perceived financial strain. There were also modest elevations in perceived stress, and poorer levels of educational attainment. Among women not depressed at baseline, and with no previous history of depression, those in receipt of state benefits at baseline had a significantly elevated risk of developing the disorder – hazard ratio 1.61 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.13–2.3). The risk associated with perceived financial strain was 2.16 (95% CI 1.14–4.11), but this did not remain statistically significant after adjustment was made for receipt of benefits, educational qualification, and perceived stress.
Conclusion Financial hardship as evidenced by receipt of benefits is a strong independent predictor for the development of depression. Although perception of financial strain is also a predictor for incident depression, the risk associated with this subjective characteristic does not remain significantly elevated after adjustment. Future studies of the aetiology of depression should incorporate ascertainment of actual financial status.