Poverty is driver in mental illness

Deprivation is the key factor in mental health prevalence, according to experts. The latest GMS prevalence data for 2005/6 reveals that areas of high mental illness are found in London, the north of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, all with high-deprivation areas.

North Shields GP Dr Dave Tomson, who has an interest in mental health, said that it was known that there were a number of factors that could influence mental health.

Deprivation is a key factor that is known to contribute to mental health problems. This is reflected in the map, which shows a shift towards higher mental health prevalence in the north of England compared with the south.

Mental health problems tend to be more common in urban areas and in areas with high unemployment and migration, which could explain why there is a high prevalence found in London, said Dr Tomson.

Dr Ian Walton, a GPSI in psychiatry in the West Midlands and chairman of the primary care mental health charity, said that mental health was linked inextricably to poverty.

He said that London had such a high prevalence of mental health problems because it contained some of the most deprived areas in the country.

‘It does not seem to be healthy to have large differentials between the rich and the poor in the same city,’ Dr Walton said.

‘We are all social animals and it is important to feel that we are useful members of society in order to help maintain good mental health,’ he added.

Dr Alan Cohen, South London GP and director of primary care at the Sainsbury Centre for mental health, also believed that deprivation was the main reason behind the patterns of mental health prevalence identified in the map.

‘People with severe mental illness tend to migrate towards areas of deprivation making them socially excluded.’

But Dr Tomson voiced concerns about analysing data from the quality framework saying that it depended on the accuracy of the diagnosis and as such did not reflect true prevalence.

‘Some practices may be including data from patients seeing specialist mental health services, while other practices may not be including patients who are seeing specialists,’ he said.

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