Why does relative deprivation affect mental health? The role of justice, trust and social rank in psychological wellbeing and paranoid ideation

Sophie Wickham, Nick Shryane, Minna Lyons, Thomas Dickins, Richard Bentall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Relative deprivation is associated with poor mental health but the mechanisms responsible have rarely been studied. The purpose of this paper is to hypothesize that childhood perceived relative deprivation (PRD) would be linked to sub-syndromal psychotic symptoms and poor wellbeing via beliefs about justice, trust and social rank. Design/methodology/approach: In total, 683 undergraduate students were administered measures of childhood PRD, hallucination-proneness, paranoia and wellbeing and measures of trust, social rank and beliefs about justice. A subsample supplied childhood address data. Multiple mediation analysis was used to assess pathways from childhood experiences to outcomes. Findings: Childhood PRD was associated with all three outcomes. The relationship between PRD and paranoia was fully mediated by perceptions that the world is unjust for the self and low social rank. The same variables mediated the relationship between PRD and poor wellbeing. There were no significant mediators of the relationship between PRD and hallucination-proneness. Research limitations/implications: Although our outcome measures have been validated with student samples, it may not be representative. The study is cross-sectional with a retrospective measure of PRD, although similar results were found using childhood addresses to infer objective deprivation. Further studies are required using prospective measures and patient samples. Social implications: Social circumstances that promote feelings of low social worth and injustice may confer risk of poor psychological outcome. Ameliorating these circumstances may improve population mental health. Originality/value: Improvements in public mental health will require an understanding of the mechanisms linking adversity to poor outcomes. This paper explores some probable mechanisms which have hitherto been neglected. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-126
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Public Mental Health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Belief in a just world
  • Paranoid ideation
  • Relative deprivation
  • Social rank
  • Trust
  • Well-being


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