Almost half (46%) of people with mental health problems have considered or attempted to end their own lives as a result of social factors such as debt, housing and welfare problems, or relationship breakdown in the past two years, a survey has found.
The survey of more than 1,500 people who had used mental health services in the past two years, carried out by YouGov on behalf of mental health charity Mind, covered a range of topics including issues that contributed to worsening mental health, suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
Of those who had considered or attempted suicide:
• 41% cited financial and/or housing pressures
• 29% cited the fear of losing, or the loss of welfare benefits
• 29% cited job loss or difficulties at work
• 25% cited relationship breakdown as a contributory factor.
The findings come as Mind launches a new 5-year campaign, Life Support, highlighting the importance of community services that provide advice, information and social contact for people with mental health problems. Services such as these help people overcome the social issues they often face, which can be both a cause and a result of their mental health problem.
These types of services are under threat, with local authorities having to make difficult spending decisions. Local authorities have had their budgets cut by £18 billion in real terms since 2010, and cuts in legal aid have resulted in a 50% decline in the number of not-for-profit legal advice centres between 2005 and 2015.
Sophie Corlett, director of external relations at Mind, said: “Good community support services can help people with mental health problems stay well, avoid crisis, and remain connected to their community. But this type of support is under threat and getting harder to find. That’s why we’ve launched our ‘Life Support’ campaign, to highlight the importance of services that help people with mental health problems tackle social problems that often result from and affect their mental health.
“People with mental health problems are far more likely than the rest of the population to experience social issues - such as money, housing and benefits issues – and may need more tailored support to help them address these issues – support that often is no longer available. This can lead to huge personal and financial costs, as people’s lives spiral out of control, to the point where some people are considering suicide.
“We welcome the increased investment in mental health within the health service, but there’s still a lack of recognition that mental health can be as much a social issue as a clinical one. If we fail to address the underlying social issues which may have a bigger impact on people’s lives and health than treatment or therapy, we undermine any potential benefit from health services. It’s vital that local commissioners and decision-makers act now to protect and improve these community services.”
Janice, 50, from Leeds, has a range of long-term mental and physical health problems, including borderline personality disorder. When contact with support services were all reduced or cut entirely she struggled to get out of the house, attend hospital appointments or apply for benefits. With the help of her local Mind’s befriending service, she was able to sort out these issues.
“My befriender Jess has been an absolute lifeline,” she said. “Prior to that, I was missing hospital appointments and about to have my Disability Living Allowance stopped because I couldn’t complete the huge application form for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit. I was also feeling increasingly isolated, especially as my personality disorder can make it difficult to make and maintain relationships. With Jess by my side, I was able to attend hospital appointments, do the shopping, and socialise with other service users. Crucially, Jess helped me apply for PIP and go through the assessment process – something which was hugely daunting and anxiety provoking, even with her support.
“I was awarded PIP which helps with the extra costs that come with my health problems. I feel like I’m gradually on the road to recovery, thanks in large part to the support from my local Mind. I haven’t been hospitalised in crisis for over two years now but I dread to think what could have happened without this life support. It shouldn’t all fall down to local charities like Leeds Mind to fill the gaps in services. We desperately need more funding for statutory services that really can make all the difference – help with housing problems, managing money, applying for financial support and getting out and about really can all prevent a mental health crisis.”
Helen Kemp, CEO of Leeds Mind, said: “When Janice first came to us she was experiencing a whole range of problems that were affecting her physical and mental health. With the support of our services, she is doing a lot better. Some of the people who come through our door go on to lead full and independent lives, while others may need more ongoing support with these everyday things that enable them to participate in their communities. This kind of support is often the first thing to get cut when tough spending decisions have to be made, but for our clients it can be life-saving. It is that important.”