29 March 2019
Prevalence rates for mental health problems are higher when an individual's socioeconomic status (SES) is low, but the underlying mechanisms are not clearly understood. We investigated associations between education as indicator for SES and depressive symptoms as well as positive mental health (PMH). Moreover, we hypothesized that low education is associated with a lack of psychosocial resources and more daily hassles, which in turn mediate the relationships between education and mental health. In a German representative sample ( N = 7937), we cross-sectionally first examined whether a person's educational level was associated with depressive symptoms and PMH. Educational level was defined as the highest academic qualification achieved. Second, we investigated whether also sense of control, resilience, delay of gratification, cultural activity and daily hassles followed gradients along the educational level. Third, we investigated whether they mediated the relationship between education and mental health. Results showed that depressive symptoms measured by items from the DASS-42 depression subscale were more prevalent for persons with a low educational level, PMH operationalized by the Positive Mental Health Scale was equally distributed, and all psychosocial characteristics followed the gradient of educational level. In addition, the group with a high school diploma was particularly burdened. Structural equation modeling indicated that the associations between education and mental health were mediated by all psychosocial characteristics and daily hassles, apart from the delay of gratification. In the group with the lowest educational level the model fit indices for depressive symptoms and PMH were acceptable ( χ2 = 10007.243 (627), CFI = 0.869, RMSEA = 0.04 (90% CI [0.04, 0.04], SRMR = 0.05; and χ2 = 12779.968 (741), CFI = 0.86, RMSEA = 0.05 (90% CI [0.05, 0.05], SRMR = 0.05), respectively). The effect size P m refers to the proportion of the total effect that is mediated by one or more variables (“M”), and the effect size of all indirect effects in the model for depressive symptoms was P m = .80 and for PMH it was P m = .68. The results support our hypotheses that low education is associated with less psychosocial resources, which in turn serve together with daily hassles as pathways between education and depressive symptoms as well as PMH. Building on these findings, longitudinal studies are necessary to investigate causality.
Social gradients in depression are present in a German representative sample.
Low education is also associated with a lack of sense of control and resilience.
Cultural activities and delay discounting also follow gradients along education.
Control, resilience and activities mediate between education and mental health.
Daily hassles also mediate between education and mental health.