How difficult life events influence risk of mental health problems and moves to deprived neighbourhoods

We’ve just published a journal article that assesses the links between difficult life events, residential moves and spatial inequalities in mental health in the UK.

Repossession2We find that people that move following difficult life events, such as relationship breakdown and eviction, have poor mental health and distinctive patterns of mobility.

Difficult life events appear to both harm mental health and residential opportunities, increasing the likelihood that people with poor mental health will live in socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods. Moves related to difficult life events could reinforce socioeconomic inequalities in health between areas by concentrating people with poor health in disadvantaged areas.

Objectives

Research has demonstrated that people that move to deprived areas have relatively poor health, even before they make the move, with particularly elevated risk of mental illness. However, the reasons why people moving to deprived neighbourhoods have poor health is unclear. We’ve assessed the potential influence of difficult life events. Examples of such events are divorce, eviction and unemployment, and these are known to increase mental illness. In this paper we ask if these difficult experiences trigger moves of mentally ill people into deprived neighbourhoods?

Methods

We analysed a longitudinal survey that interviews the same adults annually, the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS). In total we analysed 123,000 cases from 1996-2006. We identified people that had moved between waves of the survey and had experienced three types of difficult life events: relationship breakdown, housing eviction/repossession, and job loss. We measured area level deprivation using the Carstairs index and we explored self-reported mental health problems.

Key findings

  • Moves triggered by difficult life events are fairly rare
    • 8.5% of the respondents had moved within a year and 14.1% of these movers had experienced a difficult life event during the year of their move.
  • Difficult life events can cause mental health problems among movers
    • Risk of poor mental health was higher among movers who had experienced difficult life events than other movers.
    • Longitudinal analysis of movers’ health indicates that risk of mental health problems rose during the time period when difficult life events took place and then subsequently fell but was still moderately elevated two years following their move.
  • People moving following difficult life events were less likely to move out of deprived areas
    • Movers that had experienced difficult life events were not more likely than other movers to move to a more deprived neighbourhood but were less likely to move to a less deprived area.
  • People moving to more deprived areas following difficult life events had the worst mental health
    • Mental health problems were high among difficult life event movers moving to more, less and similarly deprived areas but were highest among those relocating to more deprived places.

Implications for understanding inequalities in mental health

Our analysis suggests that relationship breakdown, housing eviction and repossession and unemployment may harm mental health and trigger detrimental patterns of migration.

We found that movers that had experienced difficult life events were less likely to move away from deprived areas towards more advantaged neighbourhoods. Most moves are made for positive reasons – people choosing to move to houses and neighbourhoods they prefer. Difficult life events may disrupt this pattern and cause people with poor mental health to be ‘stuck’ in relatively poor environments that may further damage their health.

The worst mental health among movers was found among those that had experienced difficult life events and were moving towards more deprived areas. Moves related to difficult life events are rare but could reinforce inequalities in health between areas with different socio-economic status by concentrating people with poor health in disadvantaged areas.

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