Friday, 19 October 2012

Downturn is blamed for rise in mental health issues

Downturn is blamed for rise in mental health issues

Scots are suffering more mental health problems because of the economic downturn, according to the largest ever study on the subject.

Custom byline text: Stephen Naysmith
A report published by NHS Health Scotland today examines more than 50 indicators which help make up a picture of the nation's mental health, covering factors such as working life and community, chronic physical health problems and misuse of alcohol or drugs.
It is the second such report, but unlike the first analysis in 2009, it now gives information on changes over time.

The statistics show a rise in alcohol dependency and deaths from drug-related causes, but a fall in suicide rates.

Most markedly, they show factors linked to possible mental health problems are vastly more prevalent in poor areas.

Living in the most deprived areas of Scotland places people at a higher risk of poor mental health, researchers concluded.

Report author Elaine Tod, from NHS Health Scotland said: "Out of 50 indicators for which inequalities analysis was possible, 42 indicated a direct link between greater socio-economic disadvantage and a poorer state of mental health."

When researchers looked at the factors linked with mental health problems, only two were more prevalent in better-off areas than poor areas – drinking outside the recommended limits and overwork.

However, Andrew Fraser, director of Public Health Science at NHS Health Scotland, said it was not clear why this was.

"It may be there is more abstinence in poorer areas because people can't afford it, or have stopped drinking, having had too much. Alcohol intake is excessive across the classes, but it causes more health problems in deprived areas.

"What is very striking is the strength of the association between deprivation and pervasive, multi-dimensional mental health problems. We are not looking at a gradient so much as a whole piling up of people with problems in the poorer areas."

Mr Fraser said problems were likely to worsen in a context of austerity. He added: "We can reliably expect these indicators to worsen if deprivation and inequality widen."

The study, Scotland's Mental Health: Adults 2012, looks at nine headline indicators of mental health. Of these, five have been mapped over time and only one – suicide rates – has improved since the first report.

Two showed no significant change – the amount of satisfaction people report with life, and the prevalence of common mental health problems.

Two worsened – levels of possible alcohol dependency, as indicated by surveys which ask people about drinking and how it affects their lives, and deaths from drug misuse.

Data over time for four other indicators is not yet available. This applies to mental well-being, depression, anxiety and deliberate self-harm.

The remainder of the 45 indicators studied are "contextual" and thought to be linked to mental health and wellbeing. They include religious beliefs or spirituality, healthy eating among women, physical activity, involvement in volunteering, whether people feel safe in their neighbourhoods, good financial management and levels of control and stress at work.

In a briefing paper based on the report, NHS Health Scotland officials say priority should be given to the areas where there is real evidence of worsening over the last decade, such as drug-related deaths, alcoholism and poor managerial support at work.

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