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Money worries are fuelling a mental health crisis

(Alamy)

4 min read

Whilst the pandemic might be in our rear-view mirror, life in 2023 brings new pressures such as the cost of living crisis and the threat of global instability which is contributing to feelings of worry, fear and anxiety across the United Kingdom. That’s why anxiety is the theme of our Mental Health Awareness Week.

Anxiety is widespread across the UK. Our recent polling shows that nearly three-quarters of UK adults (73 per cent) felt anxious at least sometimes in the last two weeks, with over a quarter (26 per cent) of those feeling anxious to the extent that it stopped them from doing what they’d like, or need to do, most or all of the time. For young people (18-24) who experienced anxiety, this same prevalence of debilitating anxiety increases to over a third (35 per cent).

Almost all of us will recognise the physical feelings that can be associated with anxiety – a faster heartbeat, feeling tense or nervous, or even lightheadedness. Anxiety is a natural human response to perceived danger but when the feelings are persistent over a long period of time or become overwhelming, they can be debilitating and have serious negative impact on your life.

We need big changes at a societal level to ensure more people’s mental health is protected

Carina, one of our mental health ambassadors, shared how anxiety makes her feel: “I feel dizzy. I feel sick. My stomach is in knots. I feel hot. I feel shaky. That coupled with an overwhelming sense of dread. It’s awful.”

This Mental Health Awareness Week we are sharing guidance on how people can self-manage feelings of anxiety to prevent them from developing into a more serious problem. However, we need big changes at a societal level to ensure more people’s mental health is protected.

Certain circumstances are more likely to make us anxious, such as social isolation, work or education-related stress, or difficult times such as losing a loved one or divorce.

Anxiety around money is common. This is particularly true in the wake of the pandemic as surging living costs have caused vast numbers of people to have to make difficult decisions about paying the rent, mortgage, eating or heating their homes.

Financial strain can cause feelings of anxiety and evidence shows that being made redundant, living on benefits, or struggling with debt is associated with the likelihood of developing depression or anxiety.

Almost a third of adults in the UK (32 per cent) said worries about being able to afford to pay bills made them anxious in the last two weeks; 20 per cent said debt and 15 per cent cited job insecurity or unemployment. The cost of living crisis is taking its toll.

Financial support schemes that alleviate financial stress for people experiencing poverty must be prioritised. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trussell Trust’s Essential Guarantee calls for a level of Universal Credit that provides enough income for life’s essentials.

In our report, Mental health and the cost of living crisis: another pandemic in the making?, we found significant numbers of people were feeling anxious, stressed or hopeless about their financial situation.

Frontline workers play an important role to play. Health, social care, money and debt advice services, energy companies, water and telecommunications services as well as banks should be supported to respond effectively to the mental health effects of financial stress and strain.

Just as pressures on society increase and people across the UK are feeling anxious, the government has abandoned its planned 10-year mental health and wellbeing strategy for England, replacing it with a shorter-term Major Conditions Strategy that will cover mental health alongside several physical health conditions.

This was hugely disappointing. The government must ensure that it does not end up watering down its original intentions: the new strategy must include concrete steps to address the social determinants of poor mental health, including poverty and discrimination. And we’re calling on all political parties to commit to developing a 10-year cross-governmental mental health strategy, focusing on the prevention of poor mental health, and setting out the role that every government department can play in creating a mentally healthy society.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we are inviting everyone to share their own experiences using #ToHelpMyAnxiety.

 

Mark Rowland, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation

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