Mental Health in an Unequal World
1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England
1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.
Depressive disorders are major contributors to the world’s health burden, affecting 350 million people worldwide.
So the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Day is inequality. This is a word that gets used a lot at the moment, but what are health inequalities?
The NHS says: ‘Health inequalities are unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population, and between different groups within society. Health inequalities arise because of the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age.’
These are the conditions in which we live, every minute, hour and day, they influence how we think, feel and act. Thus, are crucial to how our physical and mental health develops.
Although there are many groups who experience inequality, there are 4 key categories that are most prominent:
Socio-economic status and deprivation: unemployed, low income, living in poor housing.
Protected characteristics: age, sex, race, sexual orientation, disability
Vulnerable groups: migrants, traveller communities, rough sleepers, homeless people, sex workers
Geography: urban, rural.
Often these groups experience multiple inequalities, for example, someone on a low income are more likely to have poor housing.
How do health inequalities impact our mental health?
Inequalities gives rise to cycles of stress which perpetuate and grow, causing a decline in healthy behaviours (eg going for a walk, meditating, cooking) and an increase in ‘unhealthy’ behaviours (eg. binge eating, smoking, drinking) which can negatively impact mental and physical health.
A growing body of research indicates that psychiatric disorders are largely caused by a combination of factors:
Clearly inequalities effect individuals stress levels, for example food poverty causes untold stress for individuals having to secure food to nourish themselves and their family.
Clearly inequalities effect the environment we live in, for example, working all day and coming home to poor housing with insufficient heating or water supply.
Whilst neurobiology and genetic factors effect on mental health remain unclear and often difficult to address, stress and environment can be addressed effectively through health policy.
The only way to effect health policy is to drive political will, if we can shout loud enough, get enough champions to call for change, garner a stronger public will, then we can push government to change policies and status quo’s that lead some to perpetually experience poor health.
We are all equal and it is our equal right to live in a way that nourishes our mind and body.
We continue to promote local services that can help you nourish your mind and body. Check out our organisations directory to find a community provider who can support you.
Words by Sandra Evans and Illustration by Mona Neilson