Saturday, November 19, 2011

More on the demographics of mental health

In the previous post, we looked at the likelihood to have received treatment for a mental health problem by political orientation based on GSS data. It turns out that self-described political liberals are twice as likely to have been treated for mental health issues as conservatives are, with moderates falling in between*. This spurred several intriguing comments that I'll turn to the GSS again to address.

Firstly, the inevitable racial issue. An anonymous commenter writes:
This generalization is too broad, since I'm sure Caucasian Liberals will have superb mental health compared to Caucasian Conservatives. Since there's studies that shows that those in higher Academia has the least stress and hence the best health.
It turns out he was being tongue-in-cheek, and whites are more prone to experience mental health issues than non-whites are. The percentages who have been treated for mental health problems, by race (n = 1,412):


As blacks are only slightly more likely to identify as liberal than they are as conservative, despite consistently voting Democratic by overwhelming margins, it's conceivable that race obfuscates the association between liberalism and mental health issues. In actuality, however, the relatively good mental health of non-whites attenuates political differences that are even more stark when only whites are considered (n = 1,033):

Whites only

While only 1 in 10 white conservatives have been treated for mental health problems, nearly one-quarter of white liberals have. I am not qualified to explain why this is the case, but perhaps God has something to say about it. In clearing up the confusion about his first comment, the anonymous commenter later writes:
Conservatives should be mentally healthier, because they tend to be more religious, hence making it easier for regulation of mental health.

Liberals worry so much that they actually care about people they don't even know.
Whether or not liberals have more mental issues to deal with because they want to put the weight of the world on their own shoulders, God's most ardent followers tend to come from the conservative ranks, and one of the rewards they receive in return is better mental health. To avoid racial confounding, only whites are included (n = 1,064):

Worship frequency
Weekly or more
More than once a month
At least once a year
Less than once a year

Each classification is exclusive, so the second should actually read "More than once a month but less than weekly or more", etc.

What about Jews? TAE is, loosely defined, part of the alternative right blogosphere, so the question has to be asked! Jews, after all, are as a group more leftist than white Democrats are. Again, God's hand is shown! Not just any god, but our God, an awesome God who reigns from heaven above (n = 1,405):


Unfortunately, the GSS is understandably unable to track ethnic Jewishness among survey participants. Instead, we're looking at Judaism by way of self-described religious affiliation. As Jews are considerably more likely than other Americans to be irreligious, there is presumably a sizable contingent of ethnic Jews in the "none" category.

Another trait that requires attention is intelligence. Writes Ed Tom Kowalsky:
[There is a] need to control for IQ inasmuch as I suspect mental illness tracks with intelligence.
Disappointingly, the best GSS proxy for IQ, Wordsum score, is not cross-referenced with the mental health question so controlling for it is a difficult thing to do. Educational attainment is of course correlated with intelligence, but the relationship is far from perfect. Instead of moving out several degrees by using education to estimate wordsum performance to estimate IQ scores, let's just consider differences in rates of mental health issues by educational attainment, again among whites alone to avoid problems with racial confounding (n = 1,067):

Educational attainment
Less than high school
High school graduate
Some college
Bachelor's degree
Post-secondary education

As was the case with worship attendance, each classification is exclusive, so the second should actually read "High school graduate but no college", etc.

While conservatives are, on average, slightly more intelligent than liberals are, white liberals have an edge over white conservatives, so the association between greater intelligence and more mental health problems might go a little way in explaining why liberals have poorer mental health than conservatives do (though for what my uninformed opinion is worth, I suspect differences in personality traits other than intelligence are far more determinative).

Silly girl contemplates the relationship between criminality, political orientation, and mental health:
I wonder whether folks who have ever been arrested or incarcerated are more likely to be liberal.

I would say that being anti social enough to end up in prison is a pretty good indicator of mental issues.
As Jokah points out, small sample size is a huge (heh) issue here, as the mental health question was only posed in one year of the survey, and the number of people who spend time in prison is in the middle single-digits range. This GSS well is dry.

For what it's worth, in Freedonomics (p182-184), John Lott--who it should be noted is clearly unsympathetic to the Democratic party--reviews multiple studies showing that to the extent that they express political preferences, felons tend to vote even more heavily Democratic than their demographic statistics (which are very Democratic) would predict.

Since we're running the conventional demographic gamut, let's look at marriage and children. To give respondents a chance to have tied the knot if their plans include as much, those under the age of 30 are excluded, while again only whites are considered (n = 926):

Marital status

And finally, kids. We're looking at the number white adults aged 30 and older have had (n = 927):


So, mental health issues are most commonly experienced among well-educated, unmarried, irreligious white liberals who don't procreate (or do the SWPL thing and have one kid after both parents are firmly established in their professional careers). Mental health problems are progressive, baby!

GSS variables used: MHTRTSLF, RACECEN1(1)(2)(4-10)(15-16), MARITAL(1)(2-5), EDUC(0-11)(12)(13-15)(16-17)(18-20), CHILDS(0)(1)(2-8), POLVIEWS(1-3)(4)(5-7), ATTEND(0-1)(2-4)(5-6)(7-8), RELIGION

* As previously noted, the GSS item being utilized here asked respondents if they had ever received treatment for a mental health problem. That's not exactly the same as asking whether or not they had ever suffered from mental health issues, but it's pretty close.


Anonymous said...

Another stereotype validation mission accomplished!

Son of Brock Landers said...

Isn't there a difference between actually having mental health issues and receiving treatment? I swear that studies have shown more urban dwellers suffer from mental illnesses as well as show that blacks suffer from mental illnesses at higher rates than other groups. I'm not a liberal, but I just find it far more likely for liberal whites to go seek treatment for mental health issues real or imagined as it is a very SWPL thing to do. They even discuss it openly about the meds they are on. I expect blacks and lower class individuals to be the more self-medicated crowd.

Anonymous said...

Could the data also be skewed, because educated liberals are more likely resorting to psychotherapy to fix their emotional and psychological issues? Compared to others who self-medicate using drugs and alcohol or stick to talking to God, pets or friends?

Audacious Epigone said...

Yeah, I'd guess there is a difference b/w having mental health issues and seeking out treatment for them. Conservatives are probably more likely to seek religious, family, or friendship help, and the lower classes are probably more likely to self-medicate with things like marijuana and alcohol. I should've added this qualifier as I did in the preceding post:

That's not exactly the same as asking whether or not they had ever suffered from mental health issues--I'd guess, ceteris paribus, liberals are more likely than conservatives are to seek out medical treatment for perceived problems that cover all aspects of personal health, whether they be physical, emotional, or psychological--but it's pretty close.

Anonymous said...

whites are more prone to experience mental health issues than non-whites are

Nonsense, all you've shown is that whites are more prone to get treatment for mental health issues.

Anonymous said...

urban dwellers suffer from mental illnesses as well as show that blacks suffer from mental illnesses at higher rates than other groups.

Both true. They try to explain away greater non-white mental illness with the idea that they are a minority and discriminated against and so feel out of place and stressed.

The simple fact that blacks are more criminal, have a greater dropout rate, much higher illegitimacy rate and many other failings show they're not as mentally healthy.

Look at their music, it's anti-social narcissism.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

It would be interesting to know if white "liberals" and white conservatives with equal educational attainment go to the couch in equal numbers.

silly girl said...

Didn't Inductivist post something about white having higher anxiety than other races? I think it was whites highest followed by hispanics, then blacks and last Asians. Anyway, worrying would lead someone to seek treatment. I wonder what percent of whites were forced to get treated.

Interesting post.

PeaceByJesus said...

Praise the Lord. Never knew this site existed until someone pasted this in FreeRepublic.

Been collecting stats for years here:

Matt said...

Didn't Inductivist post something about white having higher anxiety than other races? I think it was whites highest followed by hispanics, then blacks and last Asians.

"I compared white and black men and found no statistically significant difference on the trait or on the narcissism measure (N = 814)."

"Mexican American and Amerindian males are not higher in negative emotionality than white males, but black and Asian guys are. The black-white difference for females falls just short of statistical significance, but all other minority women have higher scores.


Following the example of my august colleagues, I will declare imperiously that white folks are genetically the most even-keeled of all races."


Also, while it's fun to imagine that Liberals are a much more messed up group psychologically, they do only inconsistently show higher Neuroticism in Big 5 studies (self designated Conservatives never do).

The treatment gap may have more to do with a Liberal ethos of talking about problems with medical authorities and seeking medication, while Conservatives may have a more internal and independent or family and friends focused way of dealing with negative emotions.

Both might be more successful in different circumstances, as much as we more conservative folks would tend to valorise self reliance and family and friend support over the medical establishment and drugs - I bet families and friends are great for relatively common problems, while docs might be more useful for rare ones.

Anonymous said...

I went to church every week for years and had mental health issues. Religion can cause mental health issues too.

Blacks may not get treatment as much as whites, but the black community is a disaster for the most part.