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Money Worries May Have Outsized Mental Health Impact on Women, Latinos, Less-Educated Whites

FILE - Students walk on the campus of Miami Dade College, in Miami, Oct. 23, 2018. New research shows paying for college tuition is a top worry for U.S. adults, and multiple financial concerns may contribute to psychological distress.

Most U.S. adults report worrying about at least two financial issues, such as being able to afford medical bills, retirement or a child's college education, new research finds.

Individuals with two or more financial worries were far more likely to suffer from serious psychological distress than those who reported fewer money concerns, Dr. Judith Weissman, a mental health researcher at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City, and her colleagues found.

Financial distress had a relatively greater effect on mental health in women and Latinos, while less-educated whites reported the most psychological distress.

The findings show that "people are feeling very disturbed about financial matters," Weissman told Reuters Health in a phone interview. "These financial matters are a proxy for our life stability."

Death rates among middle-aged white men and women in the U.S. have been on the rise since about 1999, largely driven by increases in deaths from drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, alcoholic liver disease and suicide, the study team notes in the Community Mental Health Journal. While unemployment and other objective economic measures have been linked to mental and physical health, the role of subjective measurements — how people feel about their financial situation — is not as clear, they write.

The researchers looked at serious psychological distress, which isn't a diagnosis but a measurement of a person's overall mental health and social functioning, in a sample of 24,126 U.S. adults who represented more than 245 million people nationwide.

Study participants, who were surveyed in 2016, also reported whether they were worried about paying their bills, paying costs due to serious medical events, paying costs due to unexpected medical events, paying for retirement, paying for children's college, or being able to maintain their standard of living.

Tuition tops concerns

College tuition was the top worry, reported by about 56% of participants, followed by paying for retirement, by about 49%.

Fifty-nine percent reported at least two financial worries, while about 28% reported having no worries and 13% had just one financial concern.

Women were more likely to report each of the financial worries than men, and the worries were also more common among Hispanic people compared to other groups. More-educated individuals reported fewer financial worries, while people with multiple chronic illnesses reported more.

Weissman and her colleagues are now planning to investigate whether the financial worries they studied are associated with suicide risk.

People suffering from distress should understand that care and treatment is available, Weissman said. "A lot of times feeling depressed or feeling distressed shapes the way we perceive our options," she said. "Persevere, depression is treatable, even suicidal ideation is treatable."