Ian Li - All in the mind: The effect of mental health on health behaviours

Melbourne Institute Seminar Series

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Title: All in the mind: The effect of mental health on health behaviours

Abstract: Poor health habits and mental illness are known to be strongly correlated, however there is a lack of evidence on the direction of causality between poor mental health and unhealthy behaviours. Using a population representative, longitudinal survey of Australia households, we examine the evidence for a causal link between poor mental health and unhealthy behaviours. We use three approaches to analyse this relationship and provide evidence of causality: i) using a fixed-effects model, we analyse variations within individuals and control for time-invariant individual-specific effects, regressing unhealthy behaviour against psychological distress; ii) using psychological distress risk categories as dummy variables, we examine the effect of clinically significant changes in mental health on health habits; and iii) using an instrumental variables approach, we account for the possibility of bias from reverse causality that may occur in the relationship between mental health and health behaviours. The results from our fixed-effects model suggest that increases in psychological distress are associated with observed increases in unhealthy behaviours. The instrumental variables approach indicates that much of this association captures the effect of distress on health behaviours. Thus, interventions aimed at improving mental health may also improve health outcomes through better health behaviours.

Presenter:  Ian Li, The University of Western Australia

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