Drawing Connections Between Mental Health and Social Factors in Colorado Communities

Mental health is a vital component of healthy and productive lives. And increasingly, research shows that the most important contributors to mental health occur outside of a health provider’s office.

Root Causes, a new project developed by the Colorado Health Institute in collaboration with The Colorado Health Foundation connects data on mental health and complex social factors.

Part one of this project offers a snapshot of Colorado. It combines data from a variety of sources to better understand how Colorado communities are faring on both mental health and the social factors that influence it such as housing, income inequality, and racial segregation.

Some findings may not surprise those who have worked in this area for years—for example, the close tie between income and health. We can clearly see the impact of income on access to health care, educational opportunities, and personal safety. Even when accounting for behaviors and health insurance status, socioeconomic status is connected to health outcomes.

But this analysis dives deeper into how some of these relationships happen—for example, identifying connections between income and housing stability, and housing stability and mental health:

Coloradans with stable housing report better mental health.

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Communities are encouraged to use this tool to explore social and economic indicators in their neighborhoods. Users can also navigate dashboards for additional data and research on how factors such as language, gender, income, and race interact with mental health outcomes. In addition, they can access county-level dashboards outlining how these factors play out in different parts of the state.

Up-to-date data from the Colorado Health Access Survey, U.S. Census, and more are used to inform this analysis. But as important as it is to understand where we are now, we also must understand where we’ve been. Part two of this project, which is scheduled to launch this summer, will investigate how these outcomes have changed over time and what policies or events have precipitated those changes. Finally, part three, launching later this year, will quantify the relative contributions these different factors have to mental health in Colorado’s communities.

It is our hope that these data and analyses will help inform conversations around the complex relationship between social factors and mental health, identifying where needs are greatest and exploring the real connections that underlie this complex picture.

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