Articles & Special Issues Race, Inequality & Social Mobility

Reconsidering the Role of Social Disadvantage in Physical and Mental Health: Stressful Life Events, Health Behaviors, Race, and Depression

Prevalence of depression is associated inversely with some indicators of socioeconomic position, and the stress of social disadvantage is hypothesized to mediate this relation. Relative to whites, blacks have a higher burden of most physical health conditions but, unexpectedly, a lower burden of depression. This study evaluated an etiologic model that integrates mental and physical health to account for this counterintuitive patterning. The Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study (Maryland, 1993-2004) was used to evaluate the interaction between stress and poor health behaviors (smoking, alcohol use, poor diet, and obesity) and risk of depression 12 years later for 341 blacks and 601 whites. At baseline, blacks engaged in more poor health behaviors and had a lower prevalence of depression compared with whites (5.9% vs. 9.2%). The interaction between health behaviors and stress was nonsignificant for whites (odds ratio (OR = 1.04, 95% confidence interval: 0.98, 1.11); for blacks, the interaction term was significant and negative (β: -0.18, P < 0.014). For blacks, the association between median stress and depression was stronger for those who engaged in zero (OR = 1.34) relative to 1 (OR = 1.12) and ≥2 (OR = 0.94) poor health behaviors. Findings are consistent with the proposed model of mental and physical health disparities.

Citation

Mezuk, B., Kershaw, K., Rafferty, J., Hudson, D., Abdou, C., Lee, H., Eaton, W., & Jackson, J. (2010). Reconsidering the role of social disadvantage in physical and mental health: Stressful life events, health behaviors, race, and depression. American Journal of Epidemiology, 172(11), 1238–1249. doi:10.1093/aje/kwq283