Background: Despite widespread acceptance of the 'biopsychosocial model', the aetiology of mental health problems has provoked debate amongst researchers and practitioners for decades. The role of psychological factors in the development of mental health problems remains particularly contentious, and to date there has not been a large enough dataset to conduct the necessary multivariate analysis of whether psychological factors influence, or are influenced by, mental health. This study reports on the first empirical, multivariate, test of the relationships between the key elements of the biospychosocial model of mental ill-health.
Methods and findings: Participants were 32,827 (age 18-85 years) self-selected respondents from the general population who completed an open-access online battery of questionnaires hosted by the BBC. An initial confirmatory factor analysis was performed to assess the adequacy of the proposed factor structure and the relationships between latent and measured variables. The predictive path model was then tested whereby the latent variables of psychological processes were positioned as mediating between the causal latent variables (biological, social and circumstantial) and the outcome latent variables of mental health problems and well-being. This revealed an excellent fit to the data, S-B χ(2) (3199, N = 23,397) = 126654.8, p<.001; RCFI = .97; RMSEA = .04 (.038-.039). As hypothesised, a family history of mental health difficulties, social deprivation, and traumatic or abusive life-experiences all strongly predicted higher levels of anxiety and depression. However, these relationships were strongly mediated by psychological processes; specifically lack of adaptive coping, rumination and self-blame.
Conclusion: These results support a significant revision of the biopsychosocial model, as psychological processes determine the causal impact of biological, social, and circumstantial risk factors on mental health. This has clear implications for policy, education and clinical practice as psychological processes such as rumination and self-blame are amenable to evidence-based psychological therapies.