The UK’s entire mental health support system could be left “on the brink of collapse” by the looming cost of living crisis this autumn, mental health organisations have warned the government.
In an open letter to departing prime minister Boris Johnson and the new incumbent, set to be announced on Monday (5 September) and widely expected to be Liz Truss, 17 mental health organisations have urged the government to take urgent action to put more support in place.
The move follows the NHS Confederation’s warning earlier this month that the cost of living crisis risked also turning into a public health emergency if more is not done.
In the letter, the mental health organisations have warned the mental health impact of the crisis is already beginning to be felt.
“In July alone Samaritans received 12,000 emotional support contacts mentioning finance or unemployment concerns and Mind’s Infoline has seen a 30% rise compared to last year in calls related to finances,” it said.
“YoungMinds also tracks young people’s experiences of mental health and, for the first time, ‘worries about money’ was found to be the top concern and negative influence on their mental health.
Cost of living crisis
“We know from previous experience that a squeeze on living standards, unmanageable debt and economic recessions cause a rise in mental health problems, demand for services and, sadly, are connected to a rise in suicides. We have the opportunity to learn from the past and address how to support people’s wellbeing to avoid repeating history,” the letter added.
It went on to make a stark prediction: “The nation’s mental health services were already stretched, and the pandemic has pushed them to breaking point. With over 1.5 million people currently on a waiting list, the cost of living crisis could put our entire mental health system on the brink of collapse, leaving people that are already struggling without the support they need.”
Interventions needed to be put in place now, the organisations warned. “The voluntary sector is ready to respond but we cannot do it alone. We need the government to stop being silent and show us clear and decisive leadership on this emerging national emergency that affects us all,” the letter said.
The letter has come as the Health Foundation has also warned about the possible health consequences of this autumn’s sharp increases in energy bills.
Responding to last week’s announcement by energy regulator Ofgem of an 80% increase in energy prices from October under the new energy price cap, Jo Biddy, director of health at the foundation, said: “Cold, damp homes make people ill. When people are having to make a choice between heating and eating, their health is going to suffer.
“Many will face the stress of managing debt and, in the long run, the price will be paid in poorer health, more pressure on the NHS, and fewer people in work.
“Without the speed and scale of action we saw through the pandemic, there is a risk the cost of living crisis becomes another health crisis,” Biddy added.
The 17 signatories of the open letter to the government are:
- Julie Bentley, CEO, Samaritans
- Paul Farmer, CEO, Mind
- Emma Thomas, CEO, YoungMinds
- Sarah Hughes, CEO, Centre for Mental Health
- Poppy Jaman, CEO, City Mental Health Alliance
- Mark Rowland, CEO, Mental Health Foundation
- Michael Samuel, Chair, Anna Freud Centre
- Dr Adrian James, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
- Kathy Roberts, CEO, Association of Mental Health Providers
- Mark Winstanley, CEO, Rethink Mental Illness
- Rosie Tressler, CEO, Student Minds
- Simon Blake, CEO, Mental Health First Aid England
- Dr Jacqui Dyer MBE, Director, Black Thrive Global
- Akiko Hart, CEO, NSUN (National Survivor User Network)
- Paula Ojok, CEO, Helplines Partnership
- Victoria Hornby, CEO, Mental Health Innovations
- The NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network