Mental health problems are being exacerbated by the world we live in. Metro.

Mental health problems are being exacerbated by the world we live in

Jessica Lindsay


Mental health problems don’t discriminate, as we know from stories about troubled celebrities who seem to ‘have it all’. One in four people will experience mental health issues every single year in the UK, and one in six may be going through a mental health issue on any given week. So we can hardly say that those from a more privileged background are exempt from depression, anxiety, or other problems. But when we look at the world around us, it’s difficult not to see some correlation between what goes on externally and internally.


Poverty levels are on the rise, with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation finding that 22.1% of the population are considered to be in poverty, and 1.25 million of those people in full-time employment. Wages aren’t growing at the same rate as inflation, meaning people are worse off than in previous years, particularly when you consider rising housing costs. The political landscape looks relatively bleak no matter your viewpoint, with a possibility of a no-deal Brexit looming, and global warming showing its destructive power on the sweaty brows of commuters across the country. It’s not the first time there’s been doom and gloom, and it certainly won’t be the last, but reports have shown that there is a clear link between poverty and mental health difficulties.


People are finding it harder to deal with the stressors they face daily, and rates of self harm and suicide are going up as a result.

Almost half of those in receipt of ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) have attempted suicide.


Stress is a proven risk factor when it comes to addiction, as is deprivation. It’s been shown that in communities with lower incomes, there is such a thing as ‘stress contagion’. To reduce stress, most people turn to social support, but if your support network is also stressed, this leaves little respite on either side and the strain continues.  There is no light at the tunnel free from worry, because life doesn’t work out how we want. It’s not a wild leap of the imagination to suggest that lack of hope can breed depression and anxious feelings. It can then be harder for people in dire straits financially to find the right help for addiction and mental illness. Those on low incomes are less likely to receive the treatment they request for severe mental health issues.


Medication is the most common treatment for mental health, and there were nearly 70 million prescriptions for antidepressants last year (as well as over 9 million for benzodiazepines, which is another epidemic in itself). This doesn’t help with any of the social aspects of mental illness meaning vulnerable people can still be left isolated and without a workable solution to their problems. It’s easy to dismiss the idea that a bleak world makes for a bleak outlook.


But it’s not the first time in history that’s seen mental health problems spiking during times of economic unrest – simply look at the miners’ strikes and deindustrialisation of various parts of Britain and the 80s and you can see the lasting effect on people’s wellbeing. Would you be so quick to call them snowflakes or say they’d brought substance abuse problems on themselves? We’re in a unique time when we’re seeing trillionaires running companies where workers aren’t allowed toilet breaks.


We watch the news daily and see the apparent end of the world. We wish for stability without the tangible possibility of achieving it – at least that’s the reality for swathes of the population. Danny Kushlick, founder of Tranform Drug Policy thinktank, has seen firsthand through his work how people are affected by hard times in society.


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