What Are The Social Determinants Of Physical And Mental Health?

Social determinants of one’s health are circumstances that affect their wellbeing, both physically and mentally. These determinants can include socioeconomic, political, as well as cultural factors. Along with these, one’s well-being can also be affected by how someone gets access to the proper healthcare, education, a safe living environment, and a well-balanced, nutritious diet. 


As per the World Health Organization, one’s mental health and physical health are dependent on multiple social determinants around us. It is defined as the conditions under which people are born, grow up, live, work and eventually age. A few wider forces and systematic practices also help shape our daily living conditions. 


Social determinants for mental health as well as physical health are extensive in terms of a range of factors. They exist throughout all kinds of aspects of our society. However, they are pretty separate from a person’s lifestyle choices and the medical care they receive. 


As per a study conducted by the National Academy of Medicine, medical care only accounts for approximately 10%-20% of a person’s health outcome. In contrast, most social determinants of mental health and physical health play a major role in influencing their overall health. It makes up 80%-90% of all contributing factors. 


In this article, we are going to be exploring all social determinants of mental health and physical health and well-being, including all the roles and forms. 



Social determinants of mental health and physical health fall into five different groups:


1. Healthcare 

Under healthcare fall various factors that encompass a person’s access to healthcare facilities and qualities, like health literacy, health insurance coverage, and access to primary healthcare. 


2. Economic Stability 

Economic stability refers to the link between a person’s mental health and physical health with their finances. It includes employment, food security, poverty, and housing stability. 


3. Education 

Education focuses on the connection between a person’s access to the right educational resources, its quality, as well as their mental and physical health. It can encompass secondary and higher education, childhood development, language, and literacy. 


4. Social and community life 

A person’s social and community life revolves around how they live their life, work, and learn. It also includes how these factors are related to their health. Various factors here include discrimination, incarceration, civic participation, and conditions in the workplace. 


5. Neighborhood 

Under this group fall a person’s environment and housing, and its role in their mental health as well as physical. The factors that affect this determinant are transportation, housing quality, accessibility to healthy food, quality of water, crime, and violence. 


All the factors and determinants in every group are often interwoven and related to each other. 


Access to healthcare 



One out of every 10 people in the US lives without access to quality healthcare and health insurance. They do not have the money to make any vital healthcare decisions and purchases, like necessary tests and medication. 


Moreover, some people also live too far away from healthcare clinics to get the care they deserve. Black Americans are more likely to live without good health insurance than White Americans. As of 2018, approximately 9% of Black Americans did not have access to healthcare due to the lack of health insurance. This rate was approximately 5% in the case of White Americans. 


Improving access to quality healthcare 

There are multiple ways to help improve one’s access to quality healthcare. For example, healthcare clinics should offer remote appointments as and when possible. 


The Healthy People 2030 campaign was launched recently with several objectives in mind to improve healthcare access. The aim is:


- To reduce waiting time for people in emergency situations

- To increase the proportion of adults receiving lung cancer screenings 

- To increase community services offering health screenings. 


Economic stability

Economic stability is essential when it comes to affording various lifestyle choices and paying for quality healthcare to keep people healthy. A steady, well-paying job is necessary in such cases to get housing stability and food security. Therefore, savings are important to manage chronic conditions or healthcare emergencies.


However, one out of every 10 people in the U.S. lives in poverty. Those employed in steady work might not earn enough to gain access to qualitative healthcare. Moreover, disabilities and chronic health conditions can put people at various disadvantages.


Studies have shown that there is a huge gap in health outcomes of different communities and countries with different social determinants of mental health and physical health. People living in countries with high GDP have a life expectancy of 19 years higher than those with lower GDPs. 


Improving economic stability


As per the Healthy People 2030 campaign, organizing various programs that increase one’s funds for institutions is necessary. These institutions include employment programs, high-quality child care, and career counseling. 


Therefore, healthcare providers and the government should establish policies that help people pay for their necessities like food, healthcare, education, and housing. 


Access To Quality Education



As per data from the US, there is a pretty strong correlation between one’s income and education levels and mental health and physical health indicators. Whether a child or an adolescent, access to quality education during their developmental stages helps determine their future situations and living conditions. 


Early childhood education is extremely important for developing social, physical, and mental health. Good quality education opens up multiple new doors to further their employment opportunities and education.


Children coming from low-income households or those who have disabilities or experience any form of social discrimination during their developmental stages are less likely to do well at school. Due to this, they might also face barriers when it comes to receiving higher levels of education.


As a result, those coming from low-income families struggle to get safe, stable, well-paying jobs. It also means that they are more likely to experience ailments in context to their physical health as well as mental health. 


The added stress of their economic difficulties adversely impacts one’s health and well-being. For example, a child’s brain development can be negatively affected due to living in poverty. 


Improving access to education

The U.S. Government today is taking precautions to improve access to education for everyone. Funding of Title I schools encourages continued education among people living in poverty or low-income communities.


The Healthy People 2030 campaign is also taking measures to improve the percentage of people getting better access to high-quality education, no matter their age group. 


Social and Community Life 

Interactions between an individual with their family members or co-workers can affect their mental health.


For example, workplace discrimination can adversely affect one’s mental health and self-esteem. 


Moreover, absent parents, negligent caregivers, high incarceration rates, and bullying can also negatively affect one’s mental health right from their developmental age. They can impart feelings of loneliness in such crucial stages of life. These negative feelings can continue impacting their health well into adulthood as well. 


Improving community environment

Many social determinants of physical and mental health are different factors that one cannot control individually in usual cases. Fostering a positive relationship with others at home, at work, or in their community can improve people’s overall well-being.


Programs that better one’s social determinants of physical and mental health can include social campaigns to implement smoke-free zones, curbed use of tobacco, thereby decreasing smoking-related diseases. According to the Healthy People 2030 campaign, it is important to offer people such support and care for their own good. For example, it is essential to reduce depression and anxiety by offering children more care and support, especially those with disabilities. 



A person’s neighborhood and their living conditions can negatively/positively have a huge impact on their health and safety. 


Globally, most individuals live in areas with:

- A high rate of violent crimes

- An elevated level of environmental pollution 

- Unsanitary conditions 

- Unsafe drinking water and air 


Marginalized groups of people and those from low-income communities/households are more likely to reside in places with these risks. Even at one’s workplace, one can easily come into contact with elements that can potentially harm their physical as well as mental health, like secondhand smoke.


Improving living conditions

At both micro and macro levels, one can try to make changes to improve their environment, physical and mental health, and overall well-being. 


For example, corporations can aim at reducing health and safety risks at workplaces, or local councils can help pedestrians and cyclists with dedicated paths. 



The effects of the social determinants of physical and mental health are coming out to be more pronounced during times of crisis like the ongoing global pandemic, Covid-19. As per a 2021 study, one’s racial background and socioeconomic status have negatively affected mortality and Covid-19 incidences.


During the global pandemic, the marginalized groups have experienced discrimination, crowded living conditions, financial insecurity, and having to rely on public transportation, unlike the rich, who had resources to close themselves off from the world and stay safe. Access to sanitizers, masks, food, and even enclosed spaces to isolate themselves if they caught the disease are major issues that significantly displayed how socioeconomic factors can affect every aspect of one’s life. 



The social and economic conditions into which one is born and the way they live their life have a profound impact on their physical as well as mental health


Where people are born, live, educate themselves, and work is what constitutes various social determinants of physical as well as mental health. These factors can influence different opportunities for people, including what they eat, the nutrition they consume, their level of education, the community they live in, access to the right healthcare, their working conditions, and so much more. 


Various Government bodies and the WHO are continuously working to improve people’s social determinants for physical and mental health on a global level. They are working, so everyone around the globe gets equal access to healthcare and other necessities to survive. 

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