Cost-of-living crisis takes mental health toll

The mental health of people receiving universal credit has been particularly badly affected by the rise in living costs

31st October 2023 about a 3 minute read
“Right now, the most important thing for me is the next day. Only taking things one day at a time. If I start worrying about the future, I’ll revert back to what I’m used to because old habits die hard.” Dominic Vega, mental health ambassador

One in five people have experienced worsening depression because of the cost-of-living crisis, while three in 50 have even considered suicide because of it, a survey by the mental health charity Mind has found.

The research also found that one in 10 people developed disordered eating as a result of the rising cost of living.

The survey was conducted on Mind’s behalf by Censuswide on a sample of 3,015 people in England and Wales over a two-week period in March and April.

People already in financial difficulty were particularly badly affected, the research found:

  • Of people receiving universal credit, 13% had considered suicide as a result of the cost-of-living crisis – three times more than those not receiving benefits
  • A third of people receiving universal credit reported deepening depression
  • A fifth (20 per cent) of people receiving universal credit reported disordered eating

‘Stronger safety net’ needed

Nil Guzelgun, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said:

“Our findings clearly indicate that the cost-of-living crisis is fuelling a mental health emergency. There could not be a worse time for the UK government to consider a real terms cut to support. The mental health impacts of the economic climate are clear, and people in poverty are bearing the brunt of this.

“It would also be plainly cruel to make it harder to access financial support if you are too unwell to work. An increasing number of us are struggling with our mental health in the wake of the pandemic and because of the cost-of-living crisis. Our decision makers should be boosting support, including through mental health services and more adequate benefit rates.”

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trussell Trust has found that universal credit claimants are £35 short of the money they need to live each week. The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is due to make the autumn statement on 22 November, and Guzelgun called on the government to announce an increase in benefits: “If the UK government is serious about tackling the number of people with mental health problems and the impact this is having on the economy, it must fight the effects of the cost of living with a stronger safety net.”

Guzelgun also said the Department of Work and Pensions should abandon its plans to tighten work capability assessments to encourage more people currently on long-term sickness back into the workplace: “Reducing sickness benefits and introducing further hurdles to accessing financial support is not the answer.”

‘Darker times ahead’

Dominic Vega, 40, who tried to take his own life twice in 2022 due to symptoms from post-traumatic stress disorder, found the cost-of-living crisis impacted his mental health greatly after the loss of his job. He said:

“I’m not feeling great about the future. I’m aware there are darker times ahead coming with the cost-of-living crisis, I’m having trauma treatment right now, currently on a waiting list for further trauma therapy, and I’ve got to worry about the cost-of-living crisis. The added stress of the cost-of-living crisis impacted me hugely, because it was fears and anxieties I didn’t need on top of my PTSD and depression. It haunts me to this day how I will survive and how I can provide for myself and my son with benefits being looked into and possibly reduced. My mental illness is severe without the cost-of-living crisis putting more stress on me.

“Right now, the most important thing for me is the next day. Only taking things one day at a time. If I start worrying about the future, I’ll revert back to what I’m used to because old habits die hard.”

FCC Insight

This survey from Mind confirms the findings of other surveys that the cost-of-living crisis is leading to a worsening of people’s mental health. Worse mental health leads to increased pressure on already-stretched mental health services, which can result in more people experiencing a mental health crisis. There is a strong case to be made for looking at ways both to improve community mental health support as an early intervention measure and to ease the financial burden currently experienced by the worst off.