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Wealth and Power Tied to Depression and Other Mental Disorders

January 05, 2015

A recent study found a high correlation between perceived power and mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, according to researchers. Results were published in Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice.

“We found that it is important to consider the motivation to pursue power, beliefs about how much power one has attained, pro-social and aggressive strategies for attaining power, and emotions related to attaining power,” said Sheri Johnson, PhD, the study’s lead author and a professor and psychologist at the University of California – Berkeley.

In this study, 612 young men and women from the University of California – Berkeley rated numerous measures, including social status, propensity toward manic, depressive or anxious symptoms, drive to achieve power, comfort with leadership, and degree of pride. Researchers defined authentic pride as related to healthy self-esteem and based on achievements and positive social behaviors, while they mentioned hubristic pride was related to overconfidence and correlated with aggression, hostility, and poor interpersonal skills.

Researchers said that a person’s perceived social status is related to mental illnesses. They suggested that healthcare professionals assess traits such as ruthless ambition, discomfort with leadership, and hubristic pride.

“This is the first study to assess the dominance behavioral system across psychopathologies," Dr. Johnson said. “The findings present more evidence that it is important to consider dominance in understanding vulnerability to psychological symptoms.”

Previously, studies had found people in developed countries with the highest levels of income inequality were three times more likely to develop depression or anxiety disorders, according to the researchers. They said there were similar results in the United States when comparing incomes and mental illness in each state.

—Tim Casey


1. Wealth, power or lack thereof at heart of many mental disorders [press release]. University of California – Berkeley; December 8, 2014.

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