When does geography matter most? Age-specific geographical effects in the patterning of, and relationship between, mental wellbeing and mental illness

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

July 15, 2020


Mental illness and mental wellbeing are related but distinct constructs. Despite this, geographical enquiry often references the two as interchangeable indicators of mental health and assumes the relationship between the two is consistent across different geographical scales. Furthermore, the importance of geography in such research is commonly assumed to be static for all age groups, despite the large body of evidence demonstrating contextual effects in age-specific populations. We leverage simultaneous measurement of a mental illness and mental wellbeing metric from Understanding Society, a UK population-based survey, and employ bivariate, cross-classified multilevel modelling to characterise the relationship between geographical context and mental health. Results provide strong evidence for contextual effects for both responses before and after covariate adjustment, with weaker evidence for area-classification and PSU-level contextual effects for the GHQ-12 after covariate adjustment. Results support a two-continua model of mental health at the individual level, but indicates that consensual benefit may be achieved across both dimensions by intervening at household and regional levels. There is also some evidence of a greater contextual effects for mental wellbeing than for mental illness. Results highlight the potential of the household as a target for intervention design for consensual benefit across both constructs. Results also suggest the increased importance of geographical context for older respondents across both responses. This research supports an area-based approach to improving both mental illness and mental wellbeing in older populations.

Published in

Health and Place


Volume: 64:102401








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