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Who is at risk and why

Adults :: Adult mental health [Update in progress] :: Who is at risk and why

Mental health problems are extremely common. Up to 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives, with approximately one in six suffering from mental health problems at any one time.

Mental health is influenced by diverse biological and social risk factors, including fixed factors such as genetic factors and biographic characteristics (age and sex) and modifiable factors such as family and socio-economic characteristics (marital status, number of children, employment), individual circumstances (life events, social supports, immigrant status, debt), household characteristics (accommodation type, housing tenure), geography (urban/rural, region) and societal factors (crime, deprivation index) [1].

There are a number of groups within the population that are at particularly higher risk of developing mental health problems, including asylum seekers and refugees [2], black men, offenders, looked-after children, those with physical illnesses, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults, drug-users, the homeless and those experiencing fuel poverty [3]. The groups with increased risk are as follows:

• Unemployed adults have a 5.6-fold increased risk of developing a mental health problem.
• The homeless have a 5.3-fold increased risk of developing a mental health problem.
• Those with a cold home or experiencing fuel poverty have a 4-fold increased risk of having depression or anxiety.
• Adults with two or more physical illnesses have a 6.4-fold increased risk of having mental health problems.
• Children who experience abuse have a 7-fold increased risk of recurrent depression and a 9.9-fold increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder as an adult.
• Black men are 3 times more likely to be represented on a psychiatric. ward and up to six times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act.
• Under 15's who use cannabis are 6.7 times more likely to develop schizophrenia.
• Offenders have a 5-fold increased risk of suicide (with an 18-fold increased risk.
• Amongst young offenders, a 35.8-fold increased risk amongst female offenders and an 8.3-fold increased risk for recently released offenders).
• Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender adults have a 4-fold increased risk of suicide.
• Looked after children have a 4.5-fold increased risk of suicide attempt.
• Children experiencing 4 or more adverse childhood experiences have a 12.2-fold increased risk of attempted suicide as an adult.
• Adults experiencing relationship problems or bereavement.
• Adult experiencing financial or debt problems.
• Carers.
• Those who are socially isolated.


[1]   The Government Office for Science, London. Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project (2008). 2008; The Government Office for Science, London. .
[2]   Bunting R. Asylum Seekers and Refugee Health Needs Assessment 2009; NHS Nottingham City. .
[3]   Department of Health. New Horizons: a shared vision for mental health December, 2009; Department of Health. .