A fifth of UK adults are seeing members of their support network less, due to the cost-of-living crisis
*Trigger warning - content includes mention of suicide and self-harm
New research from Co-op and mental health charities Mind, SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) and Inspire has revealed that over a fifth (22%) of people are seeing their support network less and a quarter (24%) expect that this will soon be the case, because of the cost-of-living crisis.
Relying on people in your support network who you can trust - for example, friends, family, and colleagues - can be an important way to help manage your wellbeing, including helping to reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness. The YouGov study indicates the increasing toll that rising cost of living is having on the nation’s mental wellbeing, as access to support networks and the ability to afford activities to look after our mental health becomes increasingly difficult.
Of those who were seeing their support networks less, almost two fifths (37%) said they are feeling lonely, and over a third are feeling isolated (36%), anxious (35%), or stressed (32%) because of this.
An alarming three fifths (59%) said they would usually drive to see their network, but fuel is currently too expensive for them to do so, and a sixth (15%) said they cannot afford public transport costs.
A third (33%) of respondents also said they have been less able to afford activities beneficial to their mental wellbeing, since April 2022. Of these, over three fifths (69%) said they could not afford the cost of taking part, rising to nearly four in five (79%) among 25 to 34-year-olds. Over a third (38%) can no longer afford the cost of travel to get to these activities, rising to nearly half of 25 to 34 year-olds (44%) and 45 to 54 year-olds (45%).
Emily Nuttall, 29, is a part-time student from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. She has lived experience of anxiety, depression, PTSD, self-harm and anorexia, and also has cerebral palsy. The cost of living crisis has left Emily struggling to afford to travel to her friends and family, who she relies on for mental health support. Emily has been left feeling more anxious, and experiencing suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
She says: “My mum and cousin can’t visit me as much now, as they live on the other end of the island and can’t afford to buy petrol as often. If I want to see them now, I have to get six buses to get there and back because that’s what I can afford. My cousin is one of the people I feel most comfortable speaking to about my mental health, so it’s hard not being able to see her as much.
“I live alone in my flat and the lack of social interaction is making me feel isolated. I’ve become much more withdrawn, shutdown and lonely. My anxiety has increased, and I’m stuck in my head – experiencing difficult flashbacks and suicidal thoughts. I’ve been self-harming more and relapsing with anorexia too. I just feel like I’ve become completely detached from everyone around me, which is impacting my life and recovery.
“I used to have lots of hobbies - like drama club and choir - and attend social activities too. Those things provide a happy, safe world where I don’t think about anything else. But I can only do one of those things a week now compared to the four or five I did before everything got so expensive, as well as the travel cost.
“Having independence, the ability to see my support network and take part in activities which benefit my mental health is vital to my recovery – so I’m really struggling.”
This research comes as Co-op customers, members and colleagues have raised £8million for Mind, SAMH and Inspire. The partnership is funding mental wellbeing services in over 50 local communities across the UK. Over 18,000 people have received support from the services, so far.
Vicki Nash, Associate Director of Policy, Campaigns and Public Affairs at Mind, said:
“We cannot underestimate the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on the nation’s mental health. We know that poor mental health can make earning and managing money harder and financial worries can have a huge impact on our mental health. It can start to feel like a vicious cycle.
“Since last summer, we’ve seen a 40% increase in the number of people getting in touch with the Mind Infoline about difficulties they’ve been experiencing with financial matters such as welfare, unemployment and personal debt. Callers are also regularly asking us if we know of any financial support for them to help with the rising costs.
“This new research suggests a worrying number of us are struggling to afford to see the people we often depend on to help us with life’s ups and downs, and to take part in activities that are beneficial to our mental wellbeing.
“As the cost of living crisis deepens and it may become harder to see family and friends, thousands of people across the country will need better access to mental health support in their community. That’s why we are so grateful to every Co-op customer, member and colleague who has helped reach that £8million figure through this partnership. The services they have helped to fund are already making a real difference, with 18,000 people, so far, getting support for their mental health through these. This help comes at a time when it is perhaps needed more than ever.”
Helen Carroll, Head of Community Strategy & Engagement at Co-op, said:
“We see first-hand the positive impact that can be had when members of communities come together. This £8million raised by our customers, members and colleagues will have a huge impact in responding to the desperate need for community engagement and interaction across our towns and cities amidst the cost-of-living crisis.
“Through 50 new mental wellbeing services, Mind, SAMH and Inspire are delivering vital support including those struggling to access their support networks due to the high cost of fuel and transport. So far, over 18,000 people have been supported through these services and of these, four fifths (81%) feel their mental wellbeing has improved.”
For more information on the partnership, visit https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/corporate-partnerships/current-partners/co-op/