An online survey found that more than a quarter of people feel their mental health has got worse since January this year
"At the time of the January restrictions, people were telling us just how much they were struggling. Now the rules have eased, it feels mental health has taken a back seat even though the link between mental health and money worries has come to the fore as the economic gloom settles over the country, with worrying numbers of people reporting suicidal thoughts or reaching crisis. " Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness
The nation’s mental health has worsened since the beginning of the year, according to a new survey by YouGov.
The online survey, carried out on behalf of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, shows that 29% of people say their mental health has got worse since the start of the year, a time when the Omicron variant was widespread and Plan B pandemic restrictions were still in place. By comparison, 21% said their mental health had improved in that time.
Of those who said their mental health had worsened, one in five reported that they had experienced suicidal thoughts, while just over one in 10 said they had experienced a mental health crisis requiring professional support. One in five said they had experienced panic attacks.
The survey also showed that younger adults were more likely to have faced significant challenges with their mental health this year.
Nearly one in three of those aged 18-24 who said their mental health was worse reported suicidal thoughts, while a quarter (24%) reported experiencing mental health crisis that had required professional support.
Other signs of mental ill health reported in all age groups include low mood of feeling down (77%), feeling anxious and/or worried (74%) and difficulty sleeping (60%).
Perhaps more surprisingly, when asked to look at this time next year, 23% of people said that they expected their mental health to become better, while only 13% felt it would become worse.
Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said:
“We know that the pandemic had a massive impact on people’s mental health and that it may take some years to comprehend the full extent of what we lived through during those dark days. The end of pandemic restrictions was often seen as the light at the end of the tunnel and there was much public conjecture about the impact of lockdown. But this survey reveals that in the year we were able to live our lives without restrictions, bubbles and social distancing, people were more likely to report their mental health has worsened or stayed the same, than they are to report a meaningful improvement.
“At the time of the January restrictions, people were telling us just how much they were struggling. Now the rules have eased, it feels mental health has taken a back seat even though the link between mental health and money worries has come to the fore as the economic gloom settles over the country, with worrying numbers of people reporting suicidal thoughts or reaching crisis. It’s imperative that we focus on mental health during this cost-of-living crisis as we did during the pandemic, if not more.
“The government must seize the opportunity to turn the tide on mental health by delivering on its commitment to protect the most vulnerable by uprating benefits in line with inflation, investing in NHS and social care services to help them meet the surge in demand, and publishing a fully-funded 10-year plan for mental health.”
This survey provides further evidence of a well-documented trend – the downturn in people’s mental health over a period of years. This year, which has seen a big rise in energy bills and a crisis in the cost-of-living, has been particularly difficult for people. As Mark Winstanley says, this is not something that can be solved by the NHS alone – the government has to put in place measures to protect the most vulnerable and to create a long-term plan for supporting people’s mental health.