Key statistics about social influences on mental health

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Sulette Snyman
Last updated 27th March 2024 | Next update due 27th March 2027

Millions of individuals will be affected by poor mental health at some time during their lives, and although anyone can experience these problems, there are some people from certain social situations who are at a significantly greater risk.

This fact sheet brings together statistics from various studies and health resources in order to understand how social and economic factors can act as contributing factors to poor mental health. 


Social factors affecting mental health

Social factors such as race, gender and social class, can sadly mean that people face social exclusion. This can have long-lasting and reverberating effects on certain individuals and groups in society; unfortunately often marking the start of a downward trend into poor health, unemployment, debt, and family breakdowns.

In a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it was found that people aged between 16 and 74 with a common mental health condition are more likely to be the following (compared with those who do not have a mental health condition)1:

  • be women (59%)
  • be aged between 35 and 54 (45% compared with 38%)
  • be divorced (14% compared with 7%)
  • live alone (20% compared with 16%)
  • be a one-parent family (9% compared with 4%)
  • not have a formal qualification (31% compared with 27%)
  • be a tenant of a housing association or a local authority (26% compared with 15%)2.

These associations reflect the fact that mental health problems are more prevalent in socially deprived areas of the country.


Employment and mental health

Mental health issues have had more of an impact on an individual's ability to work than any other group of conditions. Workers who suffer from mental ill health don’t often work at full capacity, as these problems impair their ability to do so. It causes approximately 12.7% of all days lost due to sickness, with around one in seven people experiencing a mental health problem at work3.

Mental health problems can impair concentration and cause fatigue, poor attention and memory loss4. If an individual is on medication to treat their mental health issues, it can make these problems worse. Depression, one of the most common mental health issues in the UK, was found to have a greater impact on productivity and time management than any other health problem5. Mental ill health can cause problems that act as barriers to employment.

Presenteeism - where an employee attends work but is less productive - can be caused by poor mental health. This problem can cause up to 60% of mental health-related costs to businesses, costing the UK economy £15.1 billion per year 6. This could be because people who suffer from mental health issues don’t show any symptoms and don't want to ‘prove’ that they have a problem because of the stigma surrounding it.


Caring for a loved one

Financial costs

Many face extra financial costs when caring for a loved one that can put a strain on family relationships and mental health - this is one of the major social influences affecting the mental health of carers. Carers UK discovered that those who are of working age and care for their partner or disabled children have higher utility bills to pay, which reflects the likelihood of them sharing the same home. Caring for an elderly relative who lives far away can have an impact on transport costs.

52% of carersfeel anxious or stressed about finances7.

Physical and mental health

The pressures that carers face can have an impact on their mental and physical health. 92% said that caring has taken its toll on their mental health, including depression and stress8. This impact is worsened due to carers not being able to find the time for check-ups or treatment or not being able to find adequate and affordable replacement care. Two in five carers say they have been forced to delay treatment due to their responsibilities9. Carers UK also discovered that some carers were even discharging themselves from the hospital early to care for the person they look after.

The 2021 GP Patient Survey concluded that while 50% of non-carers had a long-standing health condition, that rose to 60% of all carers. Furthermore, nearly three times as many lesbian, gay or bisexual carers have a mental health problem compared to heterosexual carers10.

Social exclusion and relationships

Carers found it difficult to maintain social relationships because many don’t understand what impact caring has. They are twice as likely to experience social isolation11.

Due to the sheer amount of responsibilities a carer takes on, they often report feelings of isolation. The primary reasons behind this include people not understanding their role, the need to leave paid work and being unable to take time off - all of which result in losing touch with colleagues, friends and even family members. According to the State of Caring 2014 survey, 57% said they had lost touch with their friends, and nearly half of them believe that this was because they do not have access to practical support that enables them to socialise12.


Homelessness and mental health

According to Homeless Link13, a national membership charity for organisations that work directly with the homeless in England, homeless people are likely to experience high levels of anxiety, stress and other signs of poor mental health.

The percentage of homeless people that have been diagnosed with mental health issues (45%) is nearly double that of the general population (nearly 25%). The prevalence of depression is much higher amongst homeless people. A high number of homeless people also have mental health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Of those who were diagnosed with mental health issues, 12% reported alcohol and drug problems. When people are struggling with their mental health and alcohol or drugs, this is called ‘dual diagnosis’. This tends to restrict people from accessing and receiving support as some services are not willing to help people who have drug and alcohol problems.

41% of the participants said that they used drugs or alcohol to cope with not getting the right support for their mental health problems. This highlights the high cost of not being able to get the right support when needed.


How can counselling help?

Whether your social factors are affecting your mental health, or you know of someone in that position, it is important to talk about your experiences and the stigma surrounding them.

Counselling offers a private and confidential space to explore what’s worrying you and can offer ways to overcome a number of conditions including anxiety and depression.

There are a number of treatments that are available to individuals who suffer from mental health problems. Talking therapy can help you understand what may have caused the problem and how you can manage it. Common forms of talking therapy include:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • cognitive analytical therapy (CAT)
  • creative therapy
  • counselling and psychotherapy

For more information on the different types of therapy, take a look at our dedicated page. If you're looking to find a counsellor or therapist, use our search tool. 


References

  • 1 Royal College of Psychiatrists (2008), Mental health & work, [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/212266/hwwb-mental-health-and-work.pdf
  • 2 Singleton, N., Bumpstead, R., O’Brien, M., Lee A & Meltzer H. (2000). Psychiatric Morbidity Survey among Adults Living in Private Households.
  • 3 Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health at work: statistics, [online] Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/mental-health-statistics/mental-health-work-statistics
  • 4 Millar, A. (2020), Patient, Can mental health problems and stress affect your memory?, [online] Available at: https://patient.info/news-and-features/can-mental-health-problems-and-stress-affect-your-memory
  • 5 Beck, A et al, (2011) National Library of Medicine, Severity of Depression and Magnitude of Productivity Loss, [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3133577/
  • 6 Centre for Mental Health (2011), [online] Available at: https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/2018-09/managing_presenteeism.pdf
  • 7 Carers UK (2021) Press Releases, Unpaid carers worried about the financial strain on top of continued reduced access to support, [online] Available at: https://www.carersuk.org/news-and-campaigns/press-releases/unpaid-carers-worried-about-the-financial-strain-on-top-of-continued-reduced-access-to-support
  • 8 Carers UK. (2014). Caring & Family Finances Inquiry UK Report, [online] Available at: https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/policy-library/caring-family-finances-inquiry
  • 9 Carers UK. (2013). State of Caring 2013, [online] Available at: https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/policy-library/the-state-of-caring-2013
  • 10 Carers UK (2021) Policy Briefing, GP Patient Survey 2021, [online] Available at: https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/policy-library/gp-patient-survey-201
  • 11 Campaign to End Loneliness (2015), The impact of caring on relationships and loneliness [online] Available at: https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/caring-relationships/
  • 12 Carers UK. (2014). State of Caring 2014, [online] Available at: https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/policy-library/state-of-caring-2014
  • 13 Homeless link. (2014). The unhealthy state of homelessness: Health audit results 2014
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