Tackling social inequalities to reduce mental health problems

We all have mental health and we all can experience mental health problems, whatever our background or walk of life. But the risks of mental ill-health are not equally distributed.

The likelihood of our developing a mental health problem is influenced by our biological makeup, and by the circumstances in which we are born, grow, live and age. Those who face the greatest disadvantages in life also face the greatest risks to their mental health. This unequal distribution of risk to our mental health is what we call mental health inequalities.

This report describes the extent of inequalities that contribute to poor mental health in the UK today. It explains how certain circumstances interact with our individual risk and discusses communities that are facing vulnerabilities. It makes a clearly evidenced case for why addressing inequalities can help to reduce the prevalence of mental health problems and makes a strong call for cross-sectoral action on mental health. The report concludes with proposed actions to address mental health inequalities.

Graphic of some flowers in a white circle

For centuries, mental ill-health has been overlooked, misunderstood, stigmatised and, for a long time, inappropriately treated. Much of this is now changing, although misunderstanding and stigma are not yet things of the past. As a society, we have some way to go before the extent of mental health problems and their damage to our individual and collective wellbeing is fully recognised and comprehensively responded to. Reducing mental health problems and their effects warrants the most urgent and committed public health effort of our generation. As this paper will show, addressing social, economic, cultural and environmental inequalities will take us a long way towards achieving this goal.

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