Equity and inequality

Mental health problems can affect anybody, but it is more prominent in some groups of society than others.

Equity can be defined as fairness or evenness; it is the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically, or geographically.

In spite of the broad recognition that fairness is desirable, it is regarded as being too normative a concept to be accurately defined or measured.

Inequality can be defined as the condition of being unequal; where there is a lack of equality. Measures such as access, opportunity and outcomes can be used between different groups in society, and when a lack of fairness can be identified, inequalities are said to exist. 

Mental health inequality

Mental health inequities are avoidable inequalities between groups of people arising from inequalities within societies. Conditions that can lead to health inequities include: 

  • material inequality - poverty, poor housing, lack of employment opportunities
  • social inequality and injury - stigma and discrimination or experiences related to, living in care, immigration status, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, experience of violence or abuse
  • health inequality - including having long-term physical health conditions.

These inequalities are frequently interlinked as living with a mental health condition or disability increases the likelihood of financial disadvantage and discrimination.

Certain groups in society are more vulnerable to experiencing mental health inequities, including: 

  • black and minority ethnic communities
  • homeless people
  • survivors of violence and abuse
  • LGBT community
  • people living with disabilities.

Challenging mental health inequalities

Those with severe mental illness are more likely to experience some of the most severe health inequalities, dying on average between 10 and 25 years earlier than the rest of the population. Building from the principle that equity should underpin all public policy, when it comes to mental health policy, factors that could encourage greater equity include:

  • tackling stigma and discrimination
  • ensuring access to housing, welfare and employment support
  • enforcing human rights 
  • increasing the investments made in mental health services
  • ensuring mental health achieves the same attention and focus as physical health.