​​​​Understanding the Link: How Social Determinants of Health Affect Mental Health

Sep 1, 2023

We know that social determinants of health significantly influence mental health outcomes, affecting individuals in various aspects of their lives. Today, we’re exploring the interplay between social determinants and mental well-being, along with the work our teams are doing to better understand this critical connection.

What are social determinants of health?

Social determinants of health are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. According to the World Health Organization, they are “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.”

Social determinants of health can be grouped into five areas:

  • Economic stability
  • Education access and quality
  • Health care access and quality
  • Neighborhood and built environments
  • Social and community context

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these forces and systems also include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms and policies, racism, climate change, and political systems.

Numerous studies suggest that social determinants of health account for between 30-55% of health outcomes. For example, not having access to healthy groceries due to income, transportation or zip code can lead to poor nutrition, which can lead to higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

How do social determinants of health impact mental health?

A focus on social determinants of health can lead to better mental health outcomes, including preventing mental illness.

For example, considering both the social determinants of economic stability and housing, people living in high-poverty neighborhoods exhibit worse mental health outcomes compared to people in lower-poverty neighborhoods. According to NAMI, poor housing can result in worse mental health, and adverse conditions like dampness, mold and poor heating may be associated with anxiety and depression. And lack of affordable housing may lead to homelessness. About 45% of the unhoused population lives with a mental illness.

The link between socioeconomic status and mental health can have long-lasting, often generational health effects. For example, adverse childhood experiences can lead to significant developmental disruptions, which are often expressed through higher prevalence of mental and physical disease in adulthood decades later.

Uncovering and understanding social determinants of health with our clients is critical to advancing health equity and improving health outcomes. It’s not enough for us to offer comprehensive, community-based mental health services alone. We also must provide the housing and employment supports that work to address social determinants.

What is Guild doing to understand this link?

One way we’re equipping ourselves to better understand social determinants of health is through an employee engagement initiative called the 21-Day Challenge. During these intentional quarterly social justice habit-building opportunities, staff are provided with learning and development task options designed to take busy schedules into consideration. Each day, there’s an activity option that will take less than 15 minutes to complete. There are also deeper dives and longer-term commitments such as books and movies. Whether staff members have just a minute or can cordon off a bit more time, they will engage with social determinants of health learning every day for 21 days.

What is Guild doing to understand this link?

One way we’re equipping ourselves to better understand social determinants of health is through an employee engagement initiative called the 21-Day Challenge created by Dr. Eddie Moore. During these quarterly habit-building opportunities, staff receive a diverse collection of reading, listening, and watching opportunities designed to promote personal reflection, cultural humility and take busy schedules into consideration.

“Our goal is to meet staff in their day, while prioritizing learning and growth.” shares Heather Besonen, VP of People, Space, and Technology. “We know that lasting understanding cannot happen overnight, and our staff are our greatest asset- the more we invest in our collective understanding, the better-quality care we can provide for all.

As a part of Guild’s 2021-2024 Strategic Plan, prioritization of equity and inclusion has helped direct many steps within the organization; driving internal policy and diversifying internal staffing roles to reflect the communities we serve. Learn more about this strategic pillar and other guiding principles here.