The challenge of tackling risks to mental health

The purpose of this post is to get your thoughts on a recent article about mental health and Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) which was written by some of the EHRNet team.  It raises some interesting questions about the emphasis of environmental health regulation on protecting physical health and the difficulties of regulating against risks to mental health.

If you have comments on the paper, which can be accessed in full below, or about the role of environmental health in protecting the public’s mental health please post them below. This is a debate that is really really needed.

Beyond safety to wellbeing: How local authorities can mitigate the mental health risks of living in houses in multiple occupation

Dr Caroline Barratt1, Christopher Kitcher2 and Dr Jill Stewart


The regulation of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) by local authorities focuses on ensuring the physical safety of occupants through adequate standards of building quality, safety provision and management suitability. However, it has been suggested that HMOs may also pose a particular threat to the mental health of residents. In this paper we consider the suitability of current regulations to tackle the possible risks to the mental health of HMO residents and then outline how the current public health agenda may present an opportunity for environmental health professionals to tackle these issues in new ways. Using a framework which encompasses the psychosocial processes thought to link residents’ mental health with their housing conditions, we describe how local authorities can address some of the mental health risks posed by HMOs but that the current enforcement culture, in which prosecution is seen as a last resort makes decisive action against landlords very difficult. In recognising the many vulnerable households living in HMOs, we argue that local authorities dealing with housing standards and environmental management are strategically placed to be more ambitious and proactive in protecting the health of local residents particularly through the developing public health and wellbeing partnerships. We call for empirical research to look at how local authorities actually use current legislation as well as other strategies to manage HMOs and protect the mental health of tenants.

To access the full article click here:


One thought on “The challenge of tackling risks to mental health

  1. As one of the authors of the paper I thought I’d kick off by saying that two EH colleagues have commented that the paper is a bit ‘pie in the sky’ (my words not theirs – they were more diplomatic!). They remarked that in practice some of the regulations that we pointed to as being potentially useful aren’t actually effective in practice.

    The paper is largely a reflective piece somewhat distant from practice aimed at opening debate on this issue. It would be great to have more thoughts from those working on the front line about how our assessment fits (or doesn’t) with your experience.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, Caroline.

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