Current thinking on mental health suggests that it is best to consider the whole person – rather than try to separate mental health from other areas of life. Each of us is a complex blend of physical, emotional, social, cultural, and spiritual factors.
The way we cope with life and respond to life events is affected by our experiences, and individual characteristics such as personality. This means that there is no such thing as equality where mental health is concerned. Some people are disadvantaged by emotional or social deprivation. Others are disadvantaged by the fact that they are perceived as being different, and they experience discrimination as a result. Some people appear to have a greater risk of developing mental health problems or a serious mental illness for no obvious reason.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that social and economic deprivation makes a person more susceptible to all kinds of ill health, including mental ill health.
Mental health problems are more common in socially disadvantaged populations and in areas of deprivation. They are associated with unemployment, low education levels, low income, and a poor standard of living. This same underprivileged population experiences the highest prevalence of anxiety and depression.
There is strong evidence of a connection between poverty, unemployment, social isolation, and schizophrenia. Deprivation is also associated with a number of negative experiences, such as having symptoms for longer, experiencing more frequent episodes of illness, having a poorer quality of care, and having a lower chance of recovery.
In the United Kingdom (UK), we need to pay proper attention to positive mental health and well-being. We can do this by promoting positive mental health, providing support so that the quality of life is improved, acting against social exclusion, and promoting the rights of people by addressing inequalities in mental health.
Being perceived as different to the majority of people around you has an impact on mental health. This means that people with physical disabilities, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people, people with learning difficulties and people from black and minority ethnic groups are all more likely to experience mental health problems.
There is substantial literature regarding the impact of health of all forms of discrimination, whether on the grounds of race and ethnicity, age, gender, religion or sexual orientation. It adversely impacts mental health, affecting a person’s dignity and self-esteem. It can lead to a sense of alienation, isolation, fear, and intimidation. It can make it difficult for individuals to feel socially included and to integrate into society.
Difference is a problem not because of the perceived difference itself, but because of the attitude of the majority of the population towards people who appear different. We live in a culture that encourages similarity. We notice when people dress differently, live differently, or act differently. Western culture has been slow to recognise how badly people are affected by being treated less favourably because of perceived difference.
The law now protects certain people and groups from discrimination and disadvantage. However, in order to foster positive mental health in society, we all need to think about our attitudes and find ways to treat one another with equal respect and care.
Mental health first aid training can make an enormous difference to the mental health of society because it models good practice, by offering kindness and support to people in mental distress – regardless of their ethnic heritage, sexuality, religion, economic status, health, ability, age, or gender.