Mental health has ‘failed to rebound’ after Covid amid financial worries

The nation’s mental health has “failed to rebound after the pandemic”, a charity has warned – with research suggesting around three in 10 adults’ mental health has deteriorated since the start of the year.

More adults said their mental health has worsened since the beginning of 2022, according to a YouGov survey for Rethink Mental Illness.

It comes as the Mental Health Foundation said the UK population is experiencing “widespread” levels of stress, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness due to their financial circumstances.

The charities are calling for urgent Government action ahead of this week’s autumn statement, including increasing benefits in line with inflation and investing in vital public services.

Some 29% of 2,073 UK adults polled on October 27 and 28 said their mental health is now worse, with 21% saying it is better.

Of those whose mental health has worsened, 20% said they have experienced suicidal thoughts, 21% said they have experienced panic attacks and 12% said they have experienced a crisis requiring professional support.

Reported problems included low mood/feeling down (77%), feeling anxious and/or worried (74%) and difficulty sleeping (60%).

Tom, who has borderline personality disorder, social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, had to be signed off work this year after his mental health deteriorated.

The 31-year-old has been worrying about how to pay his bills and the war in Ukraine, with members of his family in the armed forces.

He said: “I’ve experienced mental illness in the past and over the years I’ve picked up tools to cope and had recovered well.

“But the constant stress and worry this year put my mental health on shaky ground, derailing some of the good progress I’d made and putting me in a dark place.

“Looking towards the future, I’m anxious about recession and the possibility that the Government simply won’t make the investment in mental health that they need to.

“I feel lucky to have such brilliant support from my family but I know a lot of people find themselves in a similar boat to me.

“Things were meant to get better after the pandemic but we find ourselves sliding backwards.”

Rethink Mental Illness chief executive Mark Winstanley said: “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.”

Mr Winstanley said worrying numbers of people are reporting suicidal thoughts or reaching crisis point, adding: “It’s imperative that we focus on mental health during this cost-of-living crisis as we did during the pandemic, if not more.”

Separate research for the Mental Health Foundation suggests 10% of UK adults are feeling hopeless about their finances.

The survey, of 3,000 UK adults by Opinium between November 7 and 14, found more than a third of respondents (34%) said they have been feeling anxious and 29% have been feeling stressed in the past month.

Respondents said they are most concerned about not being able to maintain their standard of living (71%), heat their home (66%) or pay general monthly household bills (61%).

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Mark Rowland said the Government should consider the mental health impact of all decisions that affect the cost-of-living crisis.

He said: “If people are struggling to meet their essential needs for a warm home and enough healthy food for their families, we can expect a significant rise in mental health problems as the burden of financial strain continues to take its toll.

“The challenge the country faces cannot be easily addressed. However, there are steps we can take to protect people’s mental health at this time.

“We must support those at higher risk by, for example, raising benefits in line with inflation and employers committing to pay their staff the real living wage.

“Training frontline staff in social security and debt services on how to recognise and respond sensitively to the trauma experienced by many people they are working with can also help.”

A Government spokesperson said: “As the Health Secretary set out today, mental health is critical and this is why we are increasing investment in mental health services in England by at least £2.3 billion a year by 2024, supporting an additional two million people to access NHS-funded mental health support they need.

“Last year we provided an extra £500 million to accelerate our plans to expand talking therapies and address waiting times, giving more people the support they need, while investing in the NHS workforce.”