With a survey showing that personal debt can ‘wreak havoc’ on people’s mental health, and is adding to the pressures already being felt in the mental health system, the wisdom of further cuts to services has to be questioned.

What keeps you awake at night? If you’ve just answered “money worries”, you’re not alone. For a fifth of people in the UK, it is worries about money or, more accurately, the lack of it that is the major cause of stress.

While the government may be trumpeting the economic recovery, most people have yet to feel the benefits and are still struggling financially. Indeed, 3.9 million British families do not have enough in savings to cover their rent or mortgage for more than a month, according to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).

That is a lot of people who are one redundancy, or illness, away from potential homelessness. Plus, levels of personal indebtedness are running at near record levels – about £1.4 trillion. Combined, these worries about money can have a devastating effect on a person’s mental health.

“Problem debt… can wreak havoc on mental health, relationships and wellbeing. Across the UK people are up until the early hours worrying about their finances and bills,” said Christian Guy, director of the CSJ.

This adds to evidence from other recent surveys. For instance, earlier this month, a survey of 10,000 people by healthcare provider Bupa found that money worries were the main cause of stress for 20% of people in the UK.

Bupa’s survey also found that people are living with stress for considerable periods of time; of those who admitted to feeling stressed, 28% said they had felt that way for more than a year.

The corrosive effect such stress can have on mental health can sometimes mean that, sooner or later – usually later, when matters have reached a crisis point – the person will come into contact with the mental health system. 

But, as Greg Aitken, CEO of Hull and East Yorkshire Mind, pointed out: “at a time of increased debt, joblessness and homelessness, we are witnessing greater cutbacks to support services for the vulnerable.”

He’s right. More than 1,700 mental health in-patient beds have been lost since 2011, according to research by the BBC and Community Care, and numerous other services have disappeared across the country in recent years as local authority social care budgets have taken huge hits, with mental health often being at the front of the queue for cuts.

And this situation is likely to worsen with more reductions in local authority budgets planned in the coming years.

But this cannot be allowed to happen. Mental ill health already accounts for more than 20% of the total burden on the NHS, and the indications are that more people will seek treatment in years to come – on-going hard economic times always drive an increase in mental ill health. So the right health services have to be in place to deal with this, otherwise costs will rise even more in terms of acute care, but also in relation to wider healthcare, housing, welfare benefits and, of course, social care. 

Commissioners and managers have to be aware of the mental health needs of their area and ensure the services to deal with them are available. Without this, budget pressures will only increase, as will the risk of people not getting the help they need, when they need it.