Socioeconomic inequality: a determinant in mental health disorders?

Our mental health is shaped by genetic, developmental, environmental, and social factors.1 In an increasingly unequal world, these factors may put specific groups of people at increased risk of mental health disorders.1

Socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with an increased risk of developing a mental health disorder, and a mental health disorder compounds the negative effects of a low socioeconomic position.2

Which socioeconomic factors influence mental health?

In the UK, men living in the most deprived areas were 51% more likely to have depression than those living in areas that were not deprived3

The roles of socioeconomic factors in mental health are complex, with multidirectional pathways.1



Demographic factors that influence mental health diagnoses include age, gender, and ethnicity.1,4

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 showed that boys aged <14 years had a greater proportion of mental health burden than girls of equivalent age.5 From 15 years of age onwards, girls and women had a greater burden from mental health disorders compared with boys and men.5

The relationship between ethnicity and mental health disorders may be thought of in cultural, social, and genetic contexts.6 Increased mental health burdens associated with ethnic minorities may be due to several different factors, such as migration, neighbourhood ethnic density, perceived discrimination, and social adversity.7

In young people, low socioeconomic status increases the risk of developing depression or anxiety by 2.5-times compared with those of high socioeconomic status8


Financial strain, employment status, and income can influence mental health.1 Poorer economic situations are linked to an increased risk for mental health disorders.9 A person’s living situation – not having access to stable housing or food insecurity – can have a negative impact on mental health status.1,9


Better education can play a role in reducing risk of mental health disorders, partly due to its ability to improve job prospects.1


Community can help to protect people’s mental health, through support networks and the benefits of cultivating social capital.1 Conversely, lack of a stable community, loss of shared history, or persecution within a community can negatively impact mental health.1


How can socioeconomic inequalities in mental health be addressed?

Reducing the impact that socioeconomic inequalities have on mental health is incredibly important.2

Healthcare practitioners can help to mitigate the inequalities that socioeconomic status can have on mental health by championing mental health services to improve awareness and access. Additionally, by understanding the different risks that can be posed by different aspects of socioeconomic status, healthcare practitioners can be better informed of individuals who may be more at risk due to their situation.

Awareness campaigns, such as World Mental Health Day, that encourage healthy attitudes to talking about mental health and early help-seeking behaviour are vital to prevent the vicious cycle of low socioeconomic status and poor mental health from spiralling.2


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Our correspondent’s highlights from the symposium are meant as a fair representation of the scientific content presented. The views and opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect those of Lundbeck.


1. Patel V, et al. Lancet 2018; 392 (10157): 1553–1598.

2. Campion J, et al. Lancet 2013; 382 (9888): 183–184.

3. Remes O, et al. BMJ Open 2019; 9: e027530.

4. Clement S, et al. Psychol Med 2015; 45 (1): 11–27.

5. GBD 2019 Diseases and Injuries Collaborators. Lancet 2020; 396 (10258): Supplementary appendix 2.

6. Hawes AM, et al. Ann Psychiatry Ment Health. 2016; 4 (4): 1072.

7. Veling W. Curr Opin Psychiatry 2013; 26: 166–171.

8. Lemstra M, et al. Can J Public Health 2008; 99 (2): 125–129.

9. Lund C, et al. Soc Sci Med 2010; 71: 517–528.

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