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Minority Status and Mental Distress

Minority status and mental distress: a comparison of group density effects (2016)

P. Schofield, J. Das-Munshi, L. Becares, C. Morgan, V. Bhavsar, M. Hotopf and S. Hatch



It has been observed that mental disorders, such as psychosis, are more common for people in some ethnic groups in areas where their ethnic group is less common. We set out to test whether this ethnic density effect reflects minority status in general, by looking at three situations where individual characteristics differ from what is usual in a locality.

How was the study conducted?

Using data from the South East London Community Health study (n = 1698) we investigated associations between minority status (defined by: ethnicity, household status and occupational social class) and risk of psychotic experiences, common mental disorders and parasuicide. We used a multilevel logistic model to examine cross-level interactions between minority status at individual and neighbourhood levels.

What did we find?

We found that the experience of being in a minority due to ethnicity, single household status and occupational social class was associated with some, but not all, of the mental health outcomes we looked at. We found a strong ethnic density effect on both risk of psychotic experiences and parasuicide. We also found that living alone in an area where this was less usual was associated with increased risk of psychotic experience and that being in a disadvantaged social class in an area where this was less usual was associated with greater risk of parasuicide. We found no evidence that these group density effects were associated with common mental disorders.


The relationship between minority status and mental distress was most apparent when defined in terms of broad ethnic group but was also observed for individual household status and occupational social class.

This study has been able to widen the scope of research on the relationship between group density and mental distress for a range of mental disorders. Having shown a strong ethnic density effect on psychotic experiences and parasuicide we have also shown that these effects are not unique to ethnicity but can apply to other situations where people are in a minority. 


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