The growing gap between rich and poor has caused a “social recession,” leading to low educational achievement, increased violence and poor community cohesion, according to a report published today by the Mental Health Foundation.
The Foundation warns that “perpetual stress” and depression linked to public concern over excessive earnings has led to widespread social and health problems.
The charity’s report, Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities, calls for a “radical shift” in understanding mental health as a public health issue, citing research from around the world that shows that affluent but unequal societies can have many problems.
It also recommends assessing all future public policy for its impact on people’s mental health.
The report’s author, Dr Lynne Friedli, said individual and collective mental health and well-being depended on reducing the gap between rich and poor.
“A large divide leads to a mentally unhealthy society, and many associated social problems. In the UK in particular, we’ve failed to acknowledge this link, preferring instead to blame the health and social conditions of those living on or near the poverty line on their own lifestyle choices. This in turn further stigmatises poverty, making disadvantage even harder to overcome,” she added.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said living with inequality had “very real effects on the mind and body,” adding: “Given the huge social costs of poor mental health, it’s vital we begin to treat it as a public health priority.”