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Mental health and the social determinants of health

Mental health is shaped to a great extent by the social, economic, and physical environments in which people live.

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A person's health is influenced by personal factors — such as genetics and personal health practices — as well as by external factors. These external factors, called the social determinants of health, are powerful predictors of an individual’s behaviours and overall health. They include income, education, literacy, employment, working conditions, and social and physical environments. Often, differences among these factors are the result of inequity or some form of injustice.

To learn more about the societal factors that impact mental health and what we can do to change them see the Social Determinants of Mental Health from the World Health Organization. Key points of the document include:

  • Mental health and many common mental disorders are shaped to a great extent by the social, economic, and physical environments in which people live.
  • Social inequalities are associated with increased risk of many common mental disorders.
  • Taking action to improve the conditions of daily life from before birth, during early childhood,
    at school age, during family building and working ages, and at older ages provides opportunities both to improve population mental health and to reduce the risk of those mental disorders that are associated with social inequalities.

Inequality in a society is associated with an increase in physical and mental health problems, as well as social problems. To learn more about the impact of inequality on a society see the book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. If you don't have time to read the book, do yourself a favour and take 17 minutes to watch the TED talk titled How Economic Inequality Harms Societies by Richard Wilkinson, one of the authors of the book.

To learn more about the the Social Determinants of Health from a Canadian perspective see Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts.

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