2.5m people with mental health problems who fell into debt during pandemic considered suicide

A new report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has revealed that 2.5m people with mental health problems who fell into debt during pandemic considered suicide.

The new report, ‘The state we’re in: money and mental health in a time of crisis’, offers a state-of-the-nation snapshot of the financial and mental wellbeing of people across the UK during the pandemic.

In particular, it reveals a deeply troubling insight into the financial difficulties people with mental health problems have faced during the pandemic, and the devastating psychological impact they have had.

The research shows that common symptoms of mental health problems — such as reduced concentration or memory problems — can make it extremely difficult to manage money at the best of times.

But during the pandemic, these challenges were compounded by loss of income and employment, poor health, and reductions and delays to benefits payments. These factors have contributed to people with mental health problems facing a much bigger risk of financial hardship during the pandemic than the wider population.

National polling undertaken by Opinium on behalf of Money and Mental Health (1) shows that during the pandemic, people with mental health problems were:

  • Three times more likely to have fallen into problem debt than the wider population (15% compared to 4%).
  • Nearly twice as likely to have racked up debts equivalent to 50% of their income or more (15% compared to 8%).
  • More than twice as likely to have relied on credit or borrowing to cover every day spending — for example, on food or heating (26% compared to 11%).
  • More likely to have had zero savings to help them cope with emergencies. 1 in 4 people with mental health problems say they have no savings that they could use in emergencies (compared to 18% of the wider population), and nearly half (46%) say they can’t afford to save money regularly.
  • At high risk of considering suicide when behind on payments. 44% of UK adults with mental health problems who fell behind on bills last year either considered or attempted to take their own life. If reflected nationally, that amounts to 2.5m in people in total.
  • The risk of people becoming suicidal increased with the level of debt. 58% of those with debts over £30k saying they considered or attempted suicide during the pandemic.

The report also highlights that a worrying number of people with mental health and debt problems missed out on covid-related support measures. Despite 18% of people with mental health problems falling behind on water payments, only 6% were able to access a water payment holiday. Similarly, 17% of people with mental health problems missed credit card payments, but only 7% accessed a credit payment holiday.

Many people with mental health problems say they were unaware that this support was available, could not contact essential services providers to ask for it due to experiencing crippling admin anxiety, or did not receive additional support even if they did ask.

Money and Mental Health is making a number of wide-ranging recommendations to government, essential services providers (2) and healthcare professionals on how they can reduce the enormous pressures that people with mental health and debt problems face:

  • The government should prioritise tackling the links between debt, mental health problems and suicide in its pandemic recovery plans. The Health Secretary Sajid Javid recently announced plans for a cross government white paper on health prevention and inequalities. Addressing the link between financial difficulty and serious mental health problems should be at the heart of this plan, to give people a better chance of recovering from both.
  • GPs, A&E departments and community mental health services should routinely ask people receiving treatment for mental health problems about their finances, and provide clear signposting pathways in place to assist those who need it.
  • Banks, energy companies and other essential services providers should proactively identify customers who may be struggling, and improve the support they offer. This could include developing better processes for referring people to debt advice, offering realistic repayment plans, freezing interest and charges, and reviewing decisions on debt collection for customers with mental health problems.

Commenting on the research, Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said:

“The pandemic financially split the nation. Many gained – those who had support and lower costs often built up savings. Yet for others, it was catastrophic, and it’s a national tragedy that a disproportionate number of that group are those struggling with their mental health who missed out on the support they need to avoid reaching crisis point.

“We’re only beginning to understand the full impact of the pandemic on our lives. But these shocking findings make it clear that too many people with mental health and debt problems were excluded from help and allowed to slip through the cracks, and the results have been disastrous.

“This is about raising an alarm. Government, health professionals and essential services need to double down on efforts to stop people with mental health problems falling further into financial hardship. Prevention is better, and in the long run cheaper for the nation, than cure.

“I hope the rhetoric about ‘building back better’ from the pandemic is more than just a soundbite, as there is no time to waste – lives are at stake.”