People are facing severe money worries in the cost of living crisis. Image: Pexels
People with severe mental health issues are struggling with suicidal thoughts, panic attacks and relapses as a result of the cost of living crisis, devastating research from a leading mental health charity has revealed.
Mental Health UK surveyed 800 people living with mental illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia, severe depression and anxiety. Money worries are leading many of them to relapse and have suicidal thoughts.
More than half experienced suicidal thoughts (51 per cent) and panic attacks (53 per cent) because of concerns about money. Over two in five (41 per cent) reported a relapse, while almost one in three (31 per cent) had to increase the dosage of their medication.
Brian Dow, chief executive of Mental Health UK, said: “These devastating statistics underline the catastrophic impact of the cost of living crisis on people’s mental health. In a situation that can often prove overwhelming, any opportunity to signpost people severely affected by mental illness to free specialist debt and money advice is crucial, and sometimes just one conversation can be a lifesaver.”
Mental Health UK, alongside the Royal College of Psychiatrists, is urging health professionals to ask people they support about their finances to catch money troubles early before debt deepens.
“Health and social care professionals don’t need to be financial experts,” Dow added, “but asking people about their debt, the same way they might ask them about their alcohol intake or smoking, will make it easier to open up a conversation that can identify if they would benefit from specialist financial support that can make a meaningful difference to their mental health.”
People on low incomes are being hardest hit by the cost of living crisis, with the number of people whose mental health has been impacted “a lot” rising to 82 per cent among those on universal credit. With universal credit not enough to live on, people are suffering physically and mentally.
Many are being forced to cut back on essentials. In the last three months of 2022, around three quarters of people with mental health issues had reduced energy use and spending on food. Two in three said they had bought unhealthier food because it was cheaper (64 per cent) and more than half (53 per cent) had reduced spending on essential toiletries and hygiene products.
Anita, an advisor for Mental Health UK’s Mental Health and Money Advice Service, said: “The people that we support have often been struggling to keep their head above water for years, but the current cost of living crisis has threatened to overwhelm them completely and it won’t simply just disappear with the change of seasons. People tell us they’ve often lost hope that they can find a way out of their money troubles, and this is even more acute when they’re facing spiralling debts.”
Nearly half (49 per cent) of people behind on multiple bills have thought about taking their own lives, previous research from the Money and Mental Health Institute found. There are no laws in the UK limiting how often debt collectors can contact people about overdue bills, and the institute revealed people are being barraged with letters and calls.
“People often try to avoid debt, unable to face the letters that have piled up at the front door because it’s just so distressing or they feel ashamed,” Anita added. “But this feeds a vicious cycle, where the debt deepens and anxiety seeps into every minute of their day. The sooner we can tackle problem debt, the better, and everyone supporting people with mental health problems can play a key role in getting them the help they need as soon as possible, so they can start to turn a corner in their recovery.”
There is a strong correlation between money issues and mental health struggles. The majority of respondents were in debt (55 per cent), rising to 75 per cent among people on universal credit. Only 7 per cent of respondents said their mental health was stable and that they had enough income to meet all their needs.
Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “People living with a mental illness often live under financial strain. They are more likely to have less income and more financial hardship and debt than those living without a mental illness.”
Mental health struggles come at a financial cost. When people struggle to go outside, they have to pay more for energy bills. This affected almost three in five people surveyed by mental health UK. There’s the cost of private therapy when NHS waiting lists are too long, or the cost of having to pay for taxis due to public transport being inaccessible.
“Whilst problem debt may be a result of experiencing mental illness, it is also a cause, and can worsen and prolong it as well as delay recovery. Ultimately, debt may have disastrous consequences for individuals and their families,” James added.
“Psychiatrists, along with many other clinicians, are intensely aware of this and each day see the effects of financial hardships on their patients. Clinicians can play their part in helping their patients’ who are in problem debt but need the collaboration of a range of other bodies including money advice, financial and social care organisations.”
Mental Health UK, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Dr Chris Fitch, vulnerability lead at the Money Advice Trust, have created a guide for health and social care professionals. It explores mental health and money problems and encourages them to ask the people they’re supporting about their financial circumstances.
The guide Final Demand, which was produced in collaboration with people who have direct experience of mental health problems, hopes to make sure people can access free debt advice before they reach crisis point.
Fitch said: “It is crucial that every GP, adult social worker, and mental health nurse knows how to talk about debt. We need to make sure people with mental health problems get the help they need to prevent a problem turning into a crisis. This guide offers practical and straightforward advice on how to do just that.”
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