Subjective vs. Objective: What We Don’t Yet Know About Anxiety


There have been numerous studies to date exploring the associations between anxiety disorders and income, for example, demonstrating that the presence of a mental illness is highly correlated with low income (Dijkstra-Kersten et al., 2015).  An indicator like income is an objective one: income is a concrete number, and although a person’s income can fluctuate based on any amount of events, that number doesn’t change based on someone’s opinion or point of view.  Objective factors allow for us to understand how different elements of an individual’s life situation relate to one another, giving us a better idea of what can put that individual at a higher risk for mental health issues.

Subjective factors, on the other hand, are shaped by the point of view of the individual; an example of a subjective factor would be perceived financial strain, or how that individual views his or her financial struggles (or lack thereof).  These indicators are not used as often in studies or analyses, so we know less about how a specific person’s point of view can affect his or her risk of mental health issues.

This lack of data and knowledge about the potential relationships between someone’s perceptions and his or her mental health is damaging to us as an entire population: it limits the possibilities for treatment and the potential to predict the development or recurrence of a mental health issue.  Not knowing about the effects of a person’s mindset on their susceptibility to developing a mental health issue is ultimately detrimental to the mental health field as a whole, so I feel that more research needs to be done in relation to subjective indicators rather than objective indicators of poor mental health.

One study, though, by Sandra M. A. Dijkstra-Kersten and colleagues, aimed to look at the relationship between a subjective factor and mental health issues.  The researchers conducted their study over four years with almost three thousand participants in order to examine the relationship between financial strain and the prevalence and onset/recurrence of depressive and/or anxiety disorders (Dijkstra et al., 2015).  Their study showed that there was an association between perceiving financial strain and having an anxiety disorder, no matter what a person’s income level was, but that financial strain and income had no significant relationship to the onset or recurrence of anxiety disorders (Dijkstra et al, 2015).  From these results we can see that a person’s thoughts about his or her personal situation are not unrelated to whether or not that person may have an anxiety disorder, but that perceiving financial strain or having low income has no relationship with a later diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.

A person’s point of view regarding his or her situation, then, cannot alone trigger the development or recurrence of an anxiety disorder, but perceiving a situation as more of a struggle does relate to whether or not he or she has an anxiety disorder.  Individuals that feel they are undergoing a financial difficulty are more likely to be anxious than others, though not significantly more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, so mental health professionals may need to provide more support when their clients are feeling the effects of financial troubles.

This study gets us a step closer to understanding the relationship between a person’s perceptions and their mental health, but more needs to be done in order to corroborate these findings and to expand upon them as well.  One of the ways to work toward lessening the stigma surrounding mental illness would be to gain as much knowledge as possible about the indicators of mental illness.

References:

Dijkstra-Kersten SMA, Biesheuvel-Leliefeld KEM, van der Wouden JC, et al. (2015). Associations of financial strain and income with depressive and anxiety disorders. Epidemiol Community Health, 69, 660-665.

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