Is the cost of living crisis another pandemic in the making in terms of mental health?

March 2023

Survey suggests that money worries are preventing people from socialising with friends, pursuing hobbies and engaging in activities that help protect mental health

Research from the Mental Health Foundation suggests that many people across the UK are feeling anxious, stressed and hopeless due to their financial situation and have stopped engaging in activities known to protect their mental health and prevent problems from developing.

A survey of adults over 18 from across the UK found that three in 10 adults were having poorer quality sleep; 23 per cent were meeting with friends less often; 15 per cent were pursuing their hobbies less; and 12 per cent were exercising less frequently.

The Mental Health Foundation said it was seeing increased reports across the UK that more people were going without basic living essentials, such as food and a warm home, and said it expected the effects of the cost of living crisis on mental health to be on a scale similar to the COVID pandemic with “poverty and financial stress likely to rise over the next few years”.

The charity noted that people living with financial stress are at increased risk of mental health problems and lower mental well-being and that financial hardship is linked with depression, as well as having an impact on the mental health of children and young people through increased parenting and marital strain. It highlighted what it called ‘a cost of living paradox’ - in which behaviours that are protective of mental health (getting enough sleep and maintaining connection with family and friends) are the very behaviours that people are reducing to cope with the increased cost of living.

"A public mental health emergency"

Mark Rowland, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, called the cost of living crisis "a public mental health emergency” and made recommendations for UK governments to take urgent action.

“Concerns about finances are reducing people’s ability to do the basic things that we know support good mental health,” he said. “We need good quality sleep. We need to be able to do things we enjoy. We need exercise. We need to be able to spend time with the people we love.

“We need to do more than simply survive to have good mental health and well-being: we must thrive if we are to prevent mental health problems from developing. We need our governments to do more to alleviate the negative mental health impacts of the cost of living crisis.”

Recommendations for governments

The Mental Health Foundation published a briefing document alongside the survey, called ‘Mental Health and the Cost of Living Crisis: Another Pandemic in the Making?’. The briefing made recommendations for governments including:

  • fast-track access to additional funding for community organisations
  • assessing the mental health impact of all government decisions around the cost of living and implementing these assessments
  • ensuring that energy companies and other service providers and creditors have a compassionate response to customers experiencing financial strain
  • and ensuring that frontline workers, including call centre staff at energy and telecoms companies, for example, know how to respond effectively to the mental health effects of financial stress.

For help with the cost of living, see our web page for organisations in West Sussex and resources that can help.