Inequality and Mental Health: What’s the connection?
Mental health problems can affect anyone and have detrimental effects on the lives of individuals, their friends, families and broader communities. Nonetheless, Inequality factors do play a role in the likelihood of mental health problems manifesting – such as social inequality, income inequality, gender inequality and health inequality, to name a few. These inequalities can vary and affect the access to mental health support, treatment and outcomes that individuals receive. In bringing awareness to World Mental Health Day, we’re going dive into this challenging topic and unpack the different elements of inequality and their effect on mental health.
Can inequality lead to mental health problems?
Mental health issues (including here substance misuse) account for around 21.3% of the total morbidity (illness) percentage in the UK, with three-quarters of mental health problems established by the age of 24 .
Several inequality factors play an essential role in such a high percentage of adverse mental health outcomes. Mental health is closely related to many forms of inequality in a complex, interrelated way. Those who face more significant disadvantages are at a greater risk of developing mental health problems.
Socioeconomic inequality and mental health
According to the World Health Organization  and the Canadian Mental Health Association , mental health is primarily shaped by social, economic and environmental factors such as discrimination, violence and monetary resources. Unfortunately, these social inequalities exist all around us in the form of poverty, homelessness, racism, sexism and homophobia – all of which can severely impact our physical and mental health.
Together with an individual’s own personal risk factors, poor socioeconomic circumstances can create higher rates of mental health among specific communities.
Discrimination exists in many forms, such as racism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia or misogyny. A vast amount of research has shown that individuals exposed to such forms of societal discrimination are repeatedly linked with negative mental health outcomes. For example, the emotional and psychological impact of racism is associated with traumatic stress. Another example might be a disabled individual with limited accessibility to places or events. Although discrimination is usually an individualised experience, each contributes to feelings of exclusion .
Bullying and Violence
Individuals who are a member of minority groups are more likely to experience discrimination, resulting in higher rates of bullying and, in some circumstances, violence . Examples include being bullied by peers, hate crimes, abuse and domestic violence. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are also individuals at a higher risk of mental health issues due to their lived experience with bullying and violence. These individuals also experience higher rates of suicide, self-harm, substance use and difficulties at school. It’s important to note that poor mental health is not an intrinsic part of being LGBT but rather a consequence of minority stress. The term ‘minority stress’ explains that “stigma, prejudice, and discrimination create a hostile and stressful social environment that causes mental health problems” .
Research has shown that individuals at a socioeconomic disadvantage are more prone to mental health problems and at a greater risk of worsening an existing poor mental health state. If you don’t have enough money or are under constant financial strain, it can be challenging to maintain good mental health. Living in poverty, unemployment, debt and access to education are all examples of how economic inequality negatively influences mental health. Poverty, homelessness and poor financial circumstances have also been connected to higher rates of depression. Poverty is both a consequence and causal factor of poor mental health . A possible explanation for this might be the comparison of yourself to others within an unequal society.
A research study on homelessness in 2015 suggested that 32% of single homeless people reported an experience with poor mental health. More specifically, depression rates amongst the homeless population were 10 times higher than that of the general population . It’s important to remember that homelessness as a factor is unlikely to exist alone and is often experienced alongside trauma, substance abuse and social alienation – all of which are contributing factors to poor mental health.
What can be done?
As we mentioned, the socioeconomic factors that contribute to the prevalence of mental health problems among particular communities are unlikely to exist alone but in a complex, intersectional manner. To address these inequalities, support for communities and individuals must be implemented on both a systemic and individual level. Public policies are gradually implemented to reduce discrimination, poverty, unemployment, homelessness and domestic violence, to name a few. Community interventions are another method that works to tackle inequality and mental health. More specifically, organising activities to build community connectedness and awareness of resources, particularly for mental health.
On an individual level, here are some tips on what you can do to tackle inequality in your community:
- Consider getting involved in your community centers to discuss ways in which you can support those who are subject to inequalities: women, children, minorities and the underprivileged.
- If you are a parent, consider having open and honest conversations about inequality with your children
- Support your local businesses
- Attend marches and protests and sign petitions against inequality
- Consider seeking out educational or practical resources on inequality to ensure you are fully informed
For more information on mental health inequality, you can find additional resources in ‘more reading’ below.
If you or a loved one feels depressed or anxious, consider reaching out to a professional. At Therapy Central, we use evidence-based interventions such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and other approaches to help individuals get through difficult times and get their life back on track. Consider contacting one of our qualified therapists today. You can contact us and request a free 15 min consultation to see whether our help will suit your needs.
Report: Tackling Social Inequality to Reduce Mental Health Problems – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
Research paper: LGBTQI Populations and Mental Health Inequality – https://www.lgbthealth.org.uk/
WHO paper: Social Determinants of Mental Health – https://apps.who.int/
 – https://apps.who.int/
 – https://ontario.cmha.ca/
 – https://www.ohchr.org/
 – https://psychu.org/