Concepts of social inclusion, exclusion and mental health: a review of the international literature


School of Nursing, University of Nottingham, Duncan Macmillan House, Porchester Road, Mapperley, Nottingham NG3 6AA, UK. E-mail:


Accessible summary

  • • This is a review of 36 papers published in the peer reviewed literature on the subject of social inclusion, exclusion and mental health.
  • • Many of the reviewed papers offered only simplistic definitions of the concept.
  • • We identify the relationship between exclusion, inequality and injustice and question the application of the findings to current and future mental health policy.


Social inclusion and exclusion are concepts which have been widely associated with politics and policy in the first decade of the 2000s. People with mental health problems have become the focus of a range of social inclusion initiatives. A literature review was conducted to explore the peer-reviewed evidence relating social inclusion/exclusion and mental health. In total 36 papers were included in the review from the UK, Canada, Australia and Scandinavia. The papers had used a range of different approaches to research and evaluation. The included papers associated being socially included to: social roles and responsibilities such as employment, participation in social activities, environmental work and voting. Although some papers engaged in a critical discussion of the concept, many offered only simplistic accounts or definitions. Social inclusion is such a widely used term within political and policy discourses that it is surprising so little research is available within the mental health realm. There was a lack of clarity related to the concept of social exclusion and the qualitative studies focused entirely on the experiences of being excluded within an institutional or semi-institutional setting. The relationship between exclusion, inequality and injustice is identified and the relevance of the concept to current and future mental health policy is questioned.