Debt and mental health: new insights about the relationship and the importance of the measure of mental health

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


BACKGROUND: Empirical research suggests that household debt and payment difficulties are detrimental to mental health. Despite well-known measurement problems that may contaminate analyses using subjective self-reported health measures, our knowledge is very limited concerning the effect of payment difficulties on 'objective' measures of mental health. Moreover, few studies use longitudinal data to examine the relationship. This study combines rich survey data and longitudinal data from administrative registers on a representative sample of the Swedish population to examine the relationship between payment difficulties and subjective and objective measures of mental health.

METHODS: We use data from a large survey of Swedish inhabitants (The Swedish Living Conditions Surveys) combined with data from administrative registers. We investigate both directions of the relationship between mental ill health and payment difficulties, controlling for previous mental health status and previous experiences of payment difficulties. We compare the association between payment difficulties and a self-reported measure of anxiety with the associations between payment difficulties and objective measures of mental ill health from a register of psychopharmaceutical drug consumption.

RESULTS: Payment difficulties associate with subjectively reported mental ill health, but less to psychopharmaca use. For objective measures, we find stronger evidence of a link running from mental ill health to later payment difficulties.

CONCLUSIONS: Self-reported and objective measures of mental problems may convey different messages regarding the impact of payment difficulties on mental health. Policy measures depend on whether the primary target group is individuals with severe mental problems or individuals with mild anxiety.


External organisations
  • Research Institute of Industrial Economics
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
  • Health Care Service and Management, Health Policy and Services and Health Economy


  • anxiety, mental disorders, mental health, debt, self-report
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)488-493
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jun 1
Publication categoryResearch