Poor mental health is an important public health challenge and significant mental health inequalities exist in Scotland. Improving the mental health of the population is a national priority because improving mental health and wellbeing is recognised as having a positive effect on many different aspects of society.

As our publication Good Mental Health for All alludes to good mental health is essential in achieving and improving outcomes for individuals, families and communities and, as such, underpins successful delivery of a wide range of national priorities and strategy commitments.

Our Mental Health Inequalities Briefing set outs key messages and actions to address the issue of mental health inequalities.

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  • 9% of adults had two or more symptoms of depression or anxiety in 2012- 2013.
  • The economic costs of mental health are substantial, amounting to approximately £10.8bn in 2009-2010, a 25% increase from 2004-2005 (£8.6bn).
  • People with mental illness die up to 20 years younger than their peers, primarily due to serious physical health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
  • Approximately 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime and at any one time approximately 1 in 6 people have a mental health problem.

You can read more data on mental health on the Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) website (external).

Mental health inequalities

Mental health problems are not equally distributed across the population. Socially disadvantaged people have an increased risk of developing mental health issues to the extent that

  • adults living in the most deprived areas are approximately twice as likely to have common mental health problems as those in the least deprived areas (22% versus 11%)
  • there were twice as many GP consultations for anxiety in areas of deprivation than in more affluent areas in Scotland (62 versus 28 consultations per 1000 patients in 2010-2011).

The link between social status and mental health problems is thought to result from the level, frequency and duration of stressful experiences and the extent to which social and individual resources and sources of support reduce their impact.

Stressful experiences occur across the life course and include

  • poverty
  • poor housing
  • family conflict
  • unemployment
  • childhood adversity
  • chronic health problems.

These all contribute to a greater risk of mental health problems, particularly if several occur together and there are no protective factors to offset their negative impact.

Our mental health inequality briefing outlines two specific strands relating to social inequalities and mental health

  • mental health inequalities as an (often neglected) component of health inequalities
  • the social and health inequalities experienced by people with mental health problems.

This briefing sets out actions to address these issues based on evidence of what works and, as such, does not address the detail of inequalities in accessing mental health services.

National and local action

Scotland’s Mental Health Strategy

The Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy takes a health promoting and preventative approach and sets out a range of commitments around

  • more accessible child and adolescent mental health
  • improved responses to common mental health problems
  • integrated community, inpatient and crisis mental health services.

The ambition is to create the best social circumstances possible and improve the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. This cannot be achieved solely by the NHS. Community Planning Partnerships, Integrated Joint Boards, third sector organisations, people with lived experience and their families and carers will also play a key role. Such partnerships can assist by working together to take action to reduce mental health inequalities, both as part of prevention and as part of service provision.

The Scottish Government has developed a framework with priorities to transform mental health in Scotland over the next 10 years.

You can read the current mental health strategy on the Scottish Government’s website.

Good Mental Health for All

'Good Mental Health for All' is an initiative developed by us and endorsed by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities which sets out a vision to improve mental health and wellbeing. It links to the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy and encourages action at national, local and community levels.

The document brings together a vision of a mentally flourishing Scotland and sets it in the context of the best evidence of what works and what we need to do to address health inequalities. This is essential if good mental health for all is to be achieved.

DBI Programme 

The Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) programme provides a framework for a compassionate and effective response to people in distress, making it more likely that they will engage with and stay connected to services or supports that may benefit them over time.

You can also read our initial evaluability assessment which aims to identify possible evaluation options.

Training and support

We provide

You can contact us about our work on mental health.

You can also sign up for our Public Mental Health e-bulletin for a round-up of mental health improvement news and events.