To evaluate socioeconomic inequalities in social relationships, and to assess whether socioeconomic conditions and social relationships are independently related to mental health problems in individuals with a physical disability due to spinal cord injury (SCI).
We analyzed cross-sectional data from 511 individuals with SCI aged over 16 years who participated in the community survey of the Swiss SCI Cohort Study (SwiSCI). Indicators for socioeconomic conditions included years of formal education, household income, and financial strain. Social relationships were operationalized by three structural (partner status; social contact frequency; number of supportive relationships) and four functional aspects (satisfaction with: overall social support; family relationships; contacts to friends; partner relationship). General mental health was assessed by the Mental Health Inventory (MHI-5) of SF-36 and depressive symptoms were measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (depression subscale, HADS-D). Established cut-offs for general mental health problems (MHI-5 ≤56) and depressive symptomatology (HADS-D ≥8) were used to dichotomize outcomes. Associations were assessed using logistic regressions.
Lower household income was predominantly associated with poor structural social relationships, whereas financial strain was robustly linked to poor functional social relationships. Financial strain was associated with general mental health problems and depressive symptomatology, even after controlling for social relationships. Education and household income were not linked to mental health. Poor structural and functional social relationships were related to general mental health problems and depressive symptomatology. Notably, trends remained stable after accounting for socioeconomic conditions.
This study provides evidence for socioeconomic inequalities in social relationships as well as for independent associations of financial strain and poor social relationships with mental health problems in individuals with SCI. Further research may develop strategies to improve mental health in SCI by strengthening social relationships. Such interventions may be especially beneficial for individuals with low income and financial strain.