Director of Public Health Annual Report 2023: Mental Health Matters

mental health matters

8. Live well- Things that can have an negative impact of mental health in adults

While the factors listed above can promote good mental health in adults, there are many things that can have a negative effect. These include drinking too much alcohol, gambling and living in poor quality homes or neighbourhoods. Worrying about money and debt can also lead to poorer mental health.

Drinking too much alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol is bad for both our physical and mental health. Indeed, alcohol has been identified as contributing to or causing more than 200 different medical conditions. Some people drink in order to relieve the symptoms of mental ill-health such as anxiety or depression. However, evidence suggests that regularly drinking too much alcohol – including binge drinking – actually has the opposite effect, causing feelings of depression.


Living in poor homes and neighbourhoods

Stable, good quality housing protects mental health but poor quality, overcrowded and insecure housing can cause or worsen existing mental health disorders.

Adults living in overcrowded housing are more likely to experience psychological distress. Living in a home that is cold is also linked to poorer mental health. For example, a government scheme to support improvements in home energy efficiency found this improved people’s mental health in both the short and medium term.

The neighbourhoods we live in equally influence our health. Neighbourhood deprivation is associated with poorer mental health, suicide and needing longer treatment for mental health problems. Meanwhile, people who feel safe in their community tend to suffer less psychological distress and depression. Research has found that acts of neighbourliness and the existence of community hubs (such as sports clubs and activity groups) can foster feelings of togetherness and offer informal sources of support.

Worrying about money

Worrying about money – due to either debt or low income – often has a negative impact on our mental health. Indeed, surveys have found that recent rises in the cost of living are affecting people’s mental health with over half of adults in England reporting that their mental health has deteriorated.

In Buckinghamshire, 90% of participants in research undertaken by the charity Buckinghamshire MIND in partnership with Citizen’s Advice Bucks in 2022, reported that worrying about their finances – particularly heating and health – impacted negatively on their mental health. The sample size for this study was, however, small (81 participants).

Case study: Money and Mental Health Research Report Buckinghamshire Mind & Citizens Advice Bucks January 2023

A man in late 20s reported feeling ‘disheartened’ with his money struggles. He is working but struggles to survive once he has paid for his rent and bills. He is not able to buy clothes or ‘anything that makes me feel good’. Life is a ‘constant worry.’ He does not think he is eligible for benefits. He wants to settle and start a family with his partner but says money is preventing that. He said his drinking is getting worse because he is feeling less able to cope and drinking ‘eases the pain’ temporarily. His biggest fear is not being able to afford rent anymore and having to find somewhere else to live. Each month he sees himself going into more debt but is unable to make the extra money. He doesn’t feel like he can support himself or his partner. He wants to work and be independent.

Unpaid caring responsibilities

Acting as a carer to a family member or close friend can be positive and rewarding. However, worry for the person being cared for can have a negative effect on the carer’s mental health. The time needed to care can also mean giving up other activities. As many as 1 in 10 adult carers give up work or reduce their working hours in order to fulfil their role as a carer and many give up hobbies and social activities, leading to greater isolation.

As with children, many adults who deliver unpaid care do not see themselves as carers: it is important to identify people with caring responsibilities in order to ensure they get information and support for their physical and mental wellbeing.