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How Social Class Influences Mental Health Essay

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Updated: Dec 11th, 2021


The term of social class has been under discussion of many sociologists for a long period (Argyle 1994). It was discovered that considerable differences between classes have an impact on human behavior, outcomes, social mobility, and the development of conflicts between people of different classes. Class differences are based on factors like speech style, sexual preferences, education, and even self-esteem. After a thorough evaluation of class differences in mental health, it becomes clearer that people from the working classes face more problems with mental health in comparison to people from the middle class: downward drift, working conditions, and mental health diagnosis influence the correlation of class and mental health. In this paper, the analysis of poverty will help to define the factors, which become influential for the mental health conditions of people from different classes. Poverty causes the development of stresses, changes in lifestyle, and even challenges in working conditions. Mental health problems turn out to be a crucial issue for people of different social classes because of the challenges with education, inabilities to get necessary incomes or/and working conditions, and varieties of stresses; varieties of social classes are characterized by different ways of treatment, different marital statuses and child development, and different lifestyles.


Poverty and mental health: the variety of social inequality. “Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods (but)… a relation between people…a social status…and the invidious distinction between classes” (Wilkinson & Pickett 2005, p. 1774). The representatives of any country, where the problems of poverty are still considered to be troublesome, are under a threat of such health risks as “smoking, alcohol drinking, being overweight, and being physically inactive” (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht 2008, p.50). First, poverty makes people limit their living conditions and suffer from inabilities to choose more comfortable and healthier places. A considerable amount of noise, constant fights with air, water, and earth pollution, litter congestion may be regarded as the main environmental stressors. Second, poverty already deprives people of an opportunity to get better treatment and physical examination.

It is also necessary to admit that though a rich person can get better treatment and choose the location, that is more convenient to live in, it is impossible to say for sure that they feel certainly better than people of lower classes do. Of course, environment and work have a certain impact on human mental health; however, some people may have problems with mental health from their births, and it becomes impossible to change this truth but only accept it and try to support a challenged person.

In general, the relation of poverty as the main factor of class differences and mental health is obvious. Even more, when we talk about this kind of relation, we should consider the idea of the inverse correlation of mental health and class differences. On the one hand, people with low incomes or, in other words, poor people may suffer from mental health problems more frequently because it becomes very difficult for them to get the necessary treatment or examinations, to choose proper places for living, and to discuss their problems with professionals. On the other hand, mental health problems prevent people from using their skills to their full extent and fight against poverty. A mentally diseased person cannot organize his/her work and faces problems with education. This is why the issue of mental health and poverty can be evaluated from two perspectives, where each point may become both the reason and the outcome. For example, the investigations of Hollingshead and Redlich (1958) show that “treatment in public agencies is related to the class position: the lower class, the greater the proportion of patients treated in public agencies” (1757). Even though mental health is somewhat ignored in social class differences investigations (Rogers & Pilgrim 2005), the relations between these two terms cannot be ignored. Simply, this relation has the following formula, offered by David Pilgrim (2009): “the lower a person’s social class position, the higher the probability of them being diagnosed with a mental health problem” (p. 181). If we consider social status as the ground, from which mental health should be analyzed, it is evident that working classes have fewer chances to get the necessary treatment and more chances to suffer from mental diseases. And if mental health problems define the division of people by their social status, it turns out to be that people with mental health problems face challenges with getting necessary education and jobs to earn enough for living and choose that social class that is more appropriate for their demands and backgrounds.

Social capital and its connection to mental health problems play an important role. Social capital is considered to be a significant concept for many people’s lives because of attention to such points as trust, social networks, reciprocity, and several social norms. Webber makes a wonderful attempt to analyze the origins of social capital and the reasons for its influence on human mental health. One of the most powerful definitions, discovered by Webber (2002) was Bourdieu’s one, where social capital is explained as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition” (p.91). However, the ideas of Robert Putman, offered at the beginning of the 1990s, were supported by the vast majority of mental health sociologists. They agreed that social capital needed to be regarded as “contextual property of communities rather than an individual trait” (Weber 2002, p. 92).

The concept of social capital is regarded from its structural (“regulated networks that foster mutually beneficial relationships”) and cognitive (“the value system that is shared by members of a community and fosters participation in social relationships”) components (Weber 2002, p. 93). The analysis of the connection of social capital to mental health shows that mentally diseased people can organize and support the relations and communication with people from other groups. This is an example of a horizontal connection that is characterized by the relations between groups and people. However, when we discuss the relations on different hierarchical levels (from the government to institutions), it is necessary to evaluate a vertical type of connection, when a community’s integration can be equated to society.

Stresses, their reasons, and the ways of how people of different classes cope with them. Social and health problems may become the reasons for stresses of different types. Constant anxiety, people’s desire to have more, low self-esteem, and social isolation – all this leads to considerable problems with health. The investigations by WHO show that the lower stages people take in the existed social hierarchy, the more chances to face the above-mentioned anxiety and insecurity these people face (Wilkinson & Marmot 2003). However, the most terrible threat for people of lower classes is the inability to cope with the appeared anxiety within a short period. If rich people can easily find enough entertainment or other possible ways out of stress, poor people cannot stop thinking about problems and worsen their health conditions. The situation in the United Kingdom is worthy of attention because its citizens suffer from “stress, anxiety, and depression combined” (Friedli 2009).

With the help of a deeper analysis of stress reasons, it becomes evident that people may suffer because of stress in different ways. First, the general state of affairs makes many people of the lower classes worry about their present and future. These people cannot allow themselves to enjoy this life to its full extent and to use their skills and opportunities when they want. Constant problems at work and home bother people and influence considerably their health conditions. State of mind cannot be called normal because it is influenced by a variety of outside factors. Mental health problems do not allow people to choose the desired style of life and the job that is more interesting for them. Second, mentally diseased people are not always able to find the necessary way of communication with people of different groups. This is why these people start panicking and breaking down their mental conditions. With time, it becomes difficult to improve the situation and get the necessary treatment. Stresses turn out to be an integral part of their lives, and mental conditions continue worsening. As a result, the inability to become part of the desirable social class appears. The above-mentioned type of stress is discussed from the perspective when mental health problems create challenges for people to get higher social class.

The situation, when social class differences become the reason for mental health problems, represents another approach for stress development. In this case, people cannot achieve the desirable purposes because of their poverty and limitations of abilities; this is why their stresses are based on personal discontent with living and working conditions. People of lower classes cannot stop thinking about their destiny and lack of abilities in comparison to people of higher classes. They compare their lives with others who feel depressed. Such stresses become crucial for their mental health and worsen health conditions within a short period.

Social Class Differences: The Effect of the Working Conditions and Job Security on the Mental Disorders Development

There is no doubt that the environment in which a person lives and works has a direct effect on this person’s mental health. As a rule, higher wage earners have better mental health, while those who have low payments exhibit higher rates of mental illnesses (Pilgrim & Rogers 2008). This is why the conditions in which the person is working often become one of the most crucial factors in the development of mental disorders (Kendall 2007). This is directly linked to the class differences because people with better jobs work in better conditions, while those from the lower levels of the population are exposed to the non-favorable working environment.

The idea that poorer levels of the population developmental disorders more frequently has long been discussed by scholars. Woodside & McClam (2008, p. 38), for instance, state that “in the predominantly rural populations and rapidly growing cities of developing countries… a combination of overcrowding, unemployment, limited and outdated health facilities, and rapid social change makes mental disorders take the form of physical complaints or criminal activity.” The combination of these factors and the fact that a person has a low-paid job and is thus forced to work in poor conditions often lead to the development of mental disorders. Most often, this happens with people of low socioeconomic status for, as it has been discovered by the field of psychiatric epidemiology so far, such a status leads to high rates of certain mental disorders among the population (Lennon 1995). Consequently, working conditions directly affect the mental health of a person.

It is worth mentioning that noise is one of the factors that are most likely to lead to the development of mental disorders. The matter is that, after working in constant noise, a person may develop constant anger and loss of self-control; these are the symptoms of serious mental illnesses: “These mental illnesses include post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, complicated grief, personality disorders (borderline, antisocial, narcissistic), and brain injury” (Schiraldi and Kerr 2002, p. 15). Therefore, poor working conditions lead to the deterioration of mental health and, correspondingly, loss of productivity (Friedly 2009). Of course, much depends on the personal perception of poor working conditions and the costs that the organizations spend for special equipment and employees’ recovery. However, in most cases, those are not only the working conditions that may lead to the development of mental diseases.

Job security and job stress can also contribute greatly to mental illnesses development. There is sufficient evidence testifying to the fact that “job insecurity, unemployment, and low-quality jobs put mental health at risk and increase both anxiety and depression” (WHO and Regional Office for Europe 2005, p. 51). At present, practically every country has high unemployment rates. As a rule, unemployment serves as an indicator of poverty and the inability to obtain socioeconomic powers in society. This all “creates an environment of stress that may contribute to the development of a mental disorder or may indicate the negative effect that a mental disorder has had on obtaining the education and independence necessary for obtaining job security and advancement” (Boyd 2007, p. 250). Besides, job stresses add to the problem of job security. Most of the people who have low-paid jobs are forced to take two or even more jobs, which often results in “changes in circadian rhythms and sleep patterns leading to increase in stress” (Boyd 2007, p. 250). In addition to this, emotional problems at work increase the stress that the employees are subjected to.

Thus, poor working conditions and job insecurity inevitably lead to the development of different mental illnesses. At this, groups with lower socioeconomic status are exposed to higher risks of developing psychiatric disorders (Dohrenwend 1992) because those are usually jobs of these people that are low-paid and that have poor working conditions.

Marital Status: Influence on the Mental Health

Marital status is one more social factor that can largely affect the mental health of a person. Several researchers have discovered that married individuals have fewer emotional and health problems because they are exposed to stress less often. For instance, Coombs (1991, p. 97) mentions that “unmarried individuals more often experience physical and emotional pathology since they lack continuous companionship with a spouse who provides emotional gratification and buffers them against the vicissitudes of daily living.” Thus, for example, alcoholism is more frequently met among unmarried people; however, the number of those who have drinking problems is even higher among separated and divorced people. Another problem that the unmarried (as well as the divorced) face is suicide. Again, it is less typical for married people because “strong social ties provide meaning and importance for individuals, thus weakening impulses for destructive behaviors” (Coombs, 1991, p. 98). Social isolation remains the main reason why unmarried people are more exposed to the influence of mental disorders.

It should also be mentioned that schizophrenia is one of the mental illnesses that are the most frequently met among unmarried people. More and more studies show a direct relationship between schizophrenia and marital status. Not only unmarried and divorced people develop schizophrenia more often than the married ones, but they exhibit lower rates of recovery from this disorder: “Marriage reduces adverse schizophrenic outcome: hospitalization length, longitudinal indices of symptomatology, social and vocational disfunctioning, and the proportion of time at risk during hospitalization” (Coombs, 1991, p. 99). In most instances, it is namely the marital status that serves as the main reason why people develop this mental disorder. Among other reasons, there are education and occupation; of these three reasons, marital status greatly influences the length of hospital stay and the recovery rates among schizophrenic patients.

Schizophrenia, however, is not the only mental illness that unmarried people may develop. Irrespective of gender, more unmarried than married people turn to mental hospitals for help. Among the most common mental disorders are anxiety, depression, and sleeping disorders. They are experienced by not only unmarried, but by the divorced, separated, and widowed people. Though some researchers state that marriage creates psychiatric distress in some people and, therefore, may lead to mental disorders development, the prevalence of the mental disorders among the unmarried still proves that people who suffer from the lack of emotional support on the part of the spouse are more likely to have mental health problems. Therefore, marital status is one of the most important social class differences that may account for the development of mental illnesses in some people.


This paper has described the main social class differences and their influence on the mental health of a person. It has been discovered and proven that people from lower social classes face higher risks of developing mental illnesses. This is the main idea that is developed throughout the paper. The paper begins by identifying the main reasons why people of different social classes have more chances of developing mental illnesses. One of the main reasons is poverty that significantly limits people’s possibilities and opportunities. After presenting a detailed definition of poverty, its effects on people’s mental health are discussed. Then the discussion gradually moves to the concept of social capital and its connection with mental health problems. Furthermore, the exposure to stress is discussed; since poor and wealthy people have approximately equal opportunities of being exposed to stressful situations, it was necessary to reveal the reasons for this exposure and how people of different social classes cope with stresses. After this, the paper proceeds to the description of working conditions and job security; at this, their relation to the people’s mental health is paid special attention to. And finally, one of the most important social class differences, marital status, is discussed. It is argued that unmarried people are more apt to develop such mental illnesses as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and sleeping disorders.


In conclusion, several social class differences and their effect on people’s mental health have been discussed in this paper. Social welfare is much predetermined by the financial one. This being the reason, the financial status of a person often accounts for his/her physical and mental health. Poverty is one of the main reasons why people develop illnesses, both mental and physical. Due to the lack of finances, they are often unable to turn for help or to afford expensive treatment. At this, lower levels of the population face especially high mental health risks. As it has been mentioned more than once, the main reason for this is poverty that leads to the lack of possibilities and constant exposure to stress. Besides, working people value their jobs more and, therefore, experience additional anxieties because they can lose them. Fear to become unemployed and lose the means for existence results in anger and depression, whereas shift work causes sleeping disorders and other health problems. All this is often aggravated by poor working conditions and, quite often, excessive noise to which people are exposed at work, which altogether favors the development of mental illnesses. Lastly, there is a social class difference that does not depend on financial welfare. This is the marital status which is almost always an indicator of a person’s mental health. It has been discovered that unmarried (divorced, separated, and widowed) people are more prone to develop different mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, sleeping disorders, anxiety, etc. Therefore, social class differences account for the mental illnesses that the population develops.


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