Physical and mental health depends on a lot of different factors. Behaviors like diet and smoking status can affect our health, as well as uncontrollable factors, like genetics.
Even our environments and income levels can affect health outcomes. That’s the idea behind social determinants of health (SDOH), which include conditions related to where we live and work.
What are social determinants of health (SDOH)?
Healthy People 2030, an initiative by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, groups SDOH into five general areas:
Education Access and Quality
Health Care Access and Quality
Neighborhood and Built Environment
Social and Community Context
These SDOH include factors such as:
Access to safe housing
Experiences of violence or discrimination
Job opportunities and income level
Opportunities for physical activity
Exposure to pollution
These factors can have a significant impact on health and quality of life. For example, lack of access to healthy foods and few opportunities to exercise can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Individuals who live in urban areas with high levels of air pollution tend to have higher rates of asthma.
And those are just physical health concerns. SDOH can also affect mental health.
How do social determinants affect mental health?
For example, a person who experiences frequent violence in their neighborhood or home can experience chronic stress and anxiety. This, in turn, can affect physical health in ways that may include disturbed sleep and increased inflammation. When these negative experiences occur in childhood, they can also impact mental health in adulthood.
Certain neighborhood details can also influence mental health. A team of British researchers found statistically significant associations between the prevalence of depression and residential characteristics, such as “abundant graffiti” and lack of private outdoor space.
Research from the World Health Organization in 2014 found that certain populations around the globe are at higher risk of mental disorders due to exposure to unfavorable circumstances. These include war and other armed conflict, neglect in early childhood, and lack of access to clean water. (Download a PDF of the full report here.)
In the United States, researchers examined the health effects of the severe drought in California in 2015. Many affected households reported that the drought negatively affected their peace of mind. Those households who reported that the drought affected their finances or property were more likely to report that it impacted their peace of mind and stress levels.
By understanding how these factors impact a person’s health, behavioral health providers can gain a more complete picture of their clients’ needs and concerns. This can help guide treatment and may lead to better client outcomes. Social workers and other types of behavioral health providers also will be better prepared to advocate for their clients, when necessary.
To get started, consider learning which SDOH most affect your practice’s client population or geographic location. You may be working with local, county, or state health departments in this area. If your clients mention particular SDOH concerns, document it in their health record, if appropriate. When possible, work with your client to take action or point them toward specific resources to help mitigate some SDOH.
At BestNotes, we’re big fans of helping behavioral health providers and their clients achieve the best outcomes. Our OutcomeTools feature helps you gather, track, and report outcome data, saving you time and reducing frustration. Whether you’re following one client or many, it’s never been easier to gather outcome data. Contact BestNotes today to learn more.