“It’s no understatement to say that the nation is facing a ‘mental health pandemic’.”
That’s the stark verdict Mind’s Rosie Weatherley delivered when assessing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our collective wellbeing. She argues that the situation is even more acute in the third national lockdown – with the nation’s Blitz spirit being severely tested and the cold weather and post-Christmas financial strain all taking their toll.
Weatherley’s warning comes in a piece for the New Statesman by Sarah Manavis in which the writer points to Ipsos Mori data that shows six in ten Brits are finding it harder to stay positive in this lockdown – as well as ONS data showing a doubling of depression diagnoses in 2020.
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The situation is clearly a matter of concern – and one aspect that bears closer inspection is the multi-faceted relationship between money and mental health.
As Weatherley noted, one factor exacerbating the current mood is the face that January is a tough month financially anyway. Add in the very real threat of job losses and reduced hours that comes from the economic fallout of the pandemic and it’s clear that the usual January concern has been magnified – and that money worries are going to be at the forefront of many peoples’ minds throughout 2021 and beyond.
There are two clear ways in which this adds to the mental health pandemic. We know that financial concerns serve to both exacerbate existing mental health problems among people who are already struggling – and that they can spark mental health problems in the first place. Stats bear this out by showing how a significant number of people in problem debt suffer with their mental health – and a significant number of people with mental health issues suffer with problem debt.
Normal wasn’t working for everyone
The issue is far from straightforward – nor is the solution easy. While the rollout of the vaccine offers the prospect of a return to ‘normal’ over the course of the year – that creates its own issues for people with mental health worries. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute highlighted the fact that, for millions of people, the prospect of having to return to normal brings a sense of dread. That’s particularly acute among people with mental health issues – and the institute is calling for flexibility over working from home to continue so that people don’t feel forced into situations where they don’t feel safe.
Those with mental health are already likely to earn £8,400 a year less – and are more likely to rely on Statutory Sick Pay through time off work with illness. That means this challenge demonstrates the financial dangers of this challenge too.
Institute chief executive Helen Undy said: “For millions of people with poor mental health, the idea of going back to business-as-usual — and losing this flexibility — is a huge worry.”
“We’re calling for urgent action from government to ensure that people with mental health problems are not left behind in the aftermath of the pandemic. That means expanding access to flexible working, improving support for those both in and out of employment, and exposing employers who are failing to do their bit.”
“People with mental health problems have been more likely to be on low incomes for decades. The pandemic has not only exposed this inequality, it looks set to make it worse. We’re calling for urgent action from the government to put this right.”
As well as material changes to sick pay and flexible working, the relationship between money and mental health also demonstrates the role that financial advice can play in easing matters.
One study, for example, showed that 43% of people felt remortgaging had a positive impact on their mental health – and 23% more said it benefitted their general wellbeing and reduced their stress levels.
Insurer Royal London also demonstrated the way in which financial advice should be seen as bringing more than just economic benefits.
It found: “Our latest research reveals that professional advice offers so much more to customers than just practical, financial benefits. It also helps to improve their emotional wellbeing by making them feel better about their money and themselves – especially in times of crisis.”
By understanding the link between money and mental health – and recognising the intense pressures on both aspects in that relationship as a result of Covid-19 – we can highlight practical support that can help millions of people. Monetary support alone won’t be the cure for the mental health pandemic – just as the vaccine, testing, PPE, social distancing etc all aren’t the sole solution to the virus – but it’s clearly one important pillar.
Do you think financial worries are harming your mental health? Check out this guide from charity Mind for useful tips and links to places where you can get help and support.