Mind logoThere is a growing crisis in mental wellbeing as communities struggle with a combination of hardships including benefit changes, unemployment and poor housing, a survey has claimed.

The survey of 111 mental health social workers and 31 chief executives of local branches of the charity Mind talked of increasing numbers of people trying to access mental health services as individuals become ‘overwhelmed by life circumstances’ at the same time as cuts in care budgets and funding are reducing their availability.

More than three quarters of social workers and some 90% of chief executives of local Minds who responded to the survey said that the mental health of people living in the communities where they work has got worse over the past 12 months.

In addition, more than 90% of charity managers said they have seen an increase in the number of people accessing mental health services in the past year with 73% experiencing people seeking services for the first time. More than one in five social workers reported seeing more people in crisis.

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Social workers and the charity managers agreed that benefit cuts, unemployment and, to a lesser extent, poor housing were the main factors driving up the increase in demand for mental health services. More than 90% of Mind managers said benefit cuts and unemployment were partly responsible for the increase and 89% thought that poor housing also played a part.

Social workers said cuts to services and benefit cuts are now the main challenges to them helping people in need of mental health services. Nearly 60% of social workers said it is now either difficult or very difficult for people to access benefit advice and support.

Negative impact of cuts
Chair of the mental health faculty of The College of Social Work, Dr Ruth Allen, said: “This survey again highlights what many social workers see as a deterioration in access to support for mental health problems, as reductions in social care and health bite. At the same time, social and financial pressures associated with poverty and poor housing seem to be mounting and are cited increasingly by social workers as reasons for mental distress and ill health.

“It is now enshrined in law that mental health services should have parity with physical health services – but this is not yet a reality in most areas. We must achieve a better balance between mental health and other conditions. We need to integrate the use of available resources more effectively and promote the specialist skills provided by social workers in helping people to build and maintain their resilience.”

Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, added: "This research provides further evidence of how cuts and other changes to benefits are negatively impacting both the mental and physical health of vulnerable individuals. At Mind we hear too often from people struggling to navigate a complex, and increasingly punitive, system that is causing a great deal of distress and putting people under excessive pressure. Changes to welfare were meant to make savings, but it is a false economy when you factor in the cost to our already-stretched health and social care services that are having to support those whose health has worsened.

“The consequences of welfare reform can be disastrous. Only last week an inquest in Witney [Prime Minister David Cameron’s constituency] found that cuts to benefits was a contributory factor in the death of Mark Wood, a 44-year-old who had a range of complex mental health problems.”