Book News: March 19th, 2009

By Dr Lynne Friedli

Evidence released by the Mental Health Foundation shows the central importance of the poverty gap to both individual and collective mental health. At a time of public concern over excessive earnings and city bonuses, this report reveals how the gap between rich and poor affects the mental health of individuals by causing psychological and physiological changes. It also argues that mental health is key to understanding wider health and social issues and that poor mental health can lead to a ‘social recession’.

The report draws together the latest research on the damaging effects of living in an unequal society. Inequality is now known to be a constant trigger to the ‘fight or flight’ response in human beings. Over time, this perpetual stress is thought to get ‘under the skin’ and lead to permanently raised levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, as well as causing depression, higher blood pressure and other biological changes associated with stress and poor mental health. These reactions can be explained by the highly social nature of human beings and their acute sensitivity to social position and status, says the report.

The report argues that mental health is the lynchpin between economic and social conditions. Poor mental health experienced by individuals is a significant cause of wider social and health problems, including low levels of educational achievement and work productivity, higher levels of physical disease and mortality and violence, relationship breakdown and poor community cohesion. But good mental health leads to better physical health, healthier lifestyles, improved productivity and educational attainment and lower levels of crime and violence.

Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities Gap is available from the MHF.