The week beginning 9th May 2022 is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK and invites a wider range of people to contemplate their own and other people’s mental battles in society. This year, the focus is on loneliness and isolation, with the UK Mental Health charity reporting 1 in 4 people feel permanently lonely. There are a variety of issues which contribute to this, not least isolation, something which restricts friend groups, promotes negative introspection, and lowers quality of life across the board. When viewed in parallel with the economic and social climate, it seems we are leading to more isolation and restriction than ever with record inflation, soaring prices of luxury and essential items and economic hardship with 7-10% inflation on everyday products. Finding oneself on the precipice of destitution or real financial hardship can of course prevent social activities and itself cause poor mental health. The true outcome of the cost-of-living crisis must surely be the huge mental health toll this takes on people of all situations, including those in the middle class who are set to experience record losses in capital and stability. In this article, we aim to join the dots between mental health awareness and the cost-of-living crisis which is pinned on to cause more mental hardship than even the pandemic and restrictions of the last two years.
The founding charity did refer too to the link between financial hardship and common illnesses like depression and anxiety and stated the nature to which financial wellbeing and mental wellbeing are interlinked. Fiscal responsibility is crucial to ensure personal and familial security, but it is often in these times of personal or societal hardship that many turn to money and spending – and as unusual as it sounds, having financial hardship can motivate you to spend even more than within your means with an ‘all or nothing’ approach. At the beginning of April, the UK energy price cap was lifted and the rates for nigh on all commodities like electricity and gas raised by a minimum of 50%, instantly putting thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of families onto the breadline. These families do not have money for luxuries, and an instant raise of more than a half to energy bills is the equivalent of a month’s rent for a shared bedroom in nearly all university cities across the country. Not to mention, many of these people living in modern poverty may have already experienced issues from lack of employment or being laid off due to financial pressures from coronavirus – and considering this, one wonders how far away we are from a record recession.
A government press release in February stated the following support for fuel price increases for millions of households, but sceptics insinuate this support has not gone far enough;
· Millions of households will receive up to £350 to help with the cost of living following a rise in the energy price cap.
· All domestic electricity customers will get £200 off their energy bills from October, with 80% of households receiving a £150 Council Tax rebate from April.
· Chancellor Rishi Sunak announces £9.1 billion Energy Bills Rebate to support families with rising global energy prices.
Those households with council tax bands A-D will also receive a £200 rebate. However, with many bills increasing way past the rebate boundary, this barely scratches the surface for millions of Britons who are struggling to buy necessities like food, water and medicine. The consumer price index (CPI) is a gold standard measure of the rate of increase or decrease in commodities in the market, with food prices rising nearly 6% year on year as of March. In 2020, the average cost of healthy foods in 2020 per 1,000 kilocalories was £7.00, compared to £2.41 for less heathy foods. This means that fast food and unhealthy options which pack more of a calorific punch suddenly become the go to option for a person struggling to make ends meet. This only serves to increase the healthcare burden in the future given that the majority of diabetes type 2 and cardiovascular disease presentations are linked to oily, fatty and rich foods. Thus, a person on a low budget is currently, although not acceptably, forced to make a decision between less quantity of food but higher quality, or the easy option of getting as much for their money as possible. For example, in 2021 the average price per 1,000 kilocalories of food high in sugar and/or fat was just £3.42 – 40% of the cost of more healthy products. Eating in this way has long been linked to psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety due to the lightly addictive and impulsive behaviours linked to rich, calorific foods. So, not only is the cost-of-living crisis causing depression and hardship, but it directly restricts choices sovereign individuals can make on their diet – and picking an unhealthy diet continually feeds back into the cycle of worsened psychological comorbidities.
BMO recently reported a landmark survey which found, “(sic) - the firm’s survey of over 2,000 UK adults (sic) found that 28% of people say the cost-of-living crisis has had a negative effect on their mental health. Chief among their concerns is the cost of housing — 38% say they are worried about rent and house prices, which are rising at a rapid rate”. Combined, this adds up to at least 1 in 2 people who are actively worried about their financial situation and anxiously watching the poor turn the market continues to take. What’s more, the distressing images from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has produced a particularly sombre mood in the UK but also with touches of defiance. Nevertheless, a sovereign country on the other side of Europe may not seem vital – but Ukraine is one of the leading exporters of crops such as corn – and millions of pounds of corn has been destroyed in fierce fighting in the fields of areas like Donbas. On this side of ‘the pond’, the consumer feels this directly with the rising cost of basic provisions, such is the lack of supply of chemicals, fertiliser, grains and produce.
The impact of financial hardship is felt across society – but one group in particular lacks a voice and confidence in discussing such issues. From Forbes.com, Bethany Garner notes, “(sic) their recent survey found that about 81% of men hide their problems from the people closest to them, with 21% believing that showing their emotions is a ‘sign of weakness’. Some 40% of men said the rising cost of living was their single biggest worry”. Considering the leading cause of death for males 18-50 is suicide, the male population are particularly quiet in expressing their own concerns about money. Not only is this a confidence issue, but our societal structures are such that men are expected to provide, have money and luxuries and to look after a family – and it is easy to fall into hardship and mental torment when you can’t fulfil your demanded role in society. Women, similarly, will struggle to cover childcare cover and nursery if they are with child. LV= and other insurance providers have provided counselling and therapy helplines, but one expects there needs to be a sea change around the worries about finance. The situation does not look to be improving in the short term, and Brits who are already experiencing debt and worry may be looking forward to a future past worry and anxiety. However, a bumpy ride is to be expected by everyone, including business owners, who can’t just cut their costs to help consumers. It remains to be seen how much further the chancellor will go to ameliorate these financial issues for his constituents and members of the public. With record job losses beginning to occur in Whitehall, however, we may need to look to ourselves and our family to protect against the mental hardship that comes with money worries.