What are the social determinants of health and do they impact people’s mental health?

Social, economic and physical factors come together to form social determinants of health. They are influential in establishing the patterns of health, disease and illness seen in a population. They create the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. The social determinants of health include health and healthcare, economic stability, social and community context, neighborhood and built environment, and education. Poor health outcomes are often made worse by the interaction between individuals and their social and physical environment. Studies support the findings that low economic status, unemployment, strained familial relationships, and unsafe neighborhoods can strongly impact mental health. People with serious mental illness are also more likely to face poverty, social isolation, residential instability and food insecurity that can impede recovery and reduce quality of life. Risk factors for many common physical and mental health disorders are heavily associated with social inequalities. Low socioeconomic status is associated with an increased risk for many diseases. Research suggests that individuals belonging to racial/ethnic minority groups are over-represented in neighborhoods with chronic poverty. The greater the inequality, the higher the risk. Increasing equality and community assets benefits health in areas such as HIV/AIDS, heart disease, substance use, smoking, depression, and stress.

See this resource on the social determinants of health from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

For more information on Mental Health Disparities, see this Editor’s Choice collection from Psychiatric Services.

See this resource on Coping With Grief After Community Violence from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. 

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