Cost-of-living money worries leading to suicidal thoughts and relapse

Money worries are leading to suicidal thoughts and panic attacks in people living with severe mental illness amid the cost-of-living crisis, new data from Mental Health UK has revealed, with significant numbers of people experiencing a relapse and having to increase their medication dosage.

Trigger warning: This article mentions suicide


  • Money worries led more than half of people severely affected by mental illness to experience suicidal thoughts (51%) and panic attacks (53%).
  • Over two-fifths (41%) reported a relapse, while almost a third (31%) had to increase the dosage of their medication.
  • Support for people facing problem debt and managing mental health problems bolstered today by new resource Final Demand, providing advice for health and social care professionals around how to provide practical support and signpost people to specialist help.

“The people that we support through the Mental Health and Money Advice service have often been struggling to keep their head above water for years, but the current cost of living crisis has threatened to overwhelm them completely and it won’t simply just disappear with the change of seasons. People tell us they’re often lost hope that they can find a way out of their money troubles, and this is even more acute when they’re facing spiralling debts.

People often try to avoid debt, unable to face the letters that have piled up at the front door because it’s just so distressing or they feel ashamed. But this feeds a vicious cycle, where the debt deepens and anxiety seeps into every minute of their day. The sooner we can tackle problem debt, the better, and everyone supporting people with mental health problems can play a key role in getting them the help they need as soon as possible, so they can start to turn a corner in their recovery.”

– Anita, an advisor for Mental Health UK’s Mental Health and Money Advice Service

Almost three quarters of people (72%) living with severe mental illness said money worries had impacted on their mental health “a lot” in the past twelve months, according to the survey by the charity of over 800 people diagnosed with conditions such as bipolar, schizophrenia and severe depression or anxiety.

The data reinforces the fact that people on low incomes are being hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis, with the number of people whose mental health has been impacted “a lot” rising to 82 percent among those on universal credit.

The majority of respondents were in debt (55%), rising to 75 percent among people on universal credit. Only 7 percent of respondents said their mental health was stable and that they had enough income to meet all their needs.

The charity found that people severely affected by mental illness are being forced to cut back on the essentials, potentially damaging their recovery. In the last three months of 2022, around three quarters had reduced energy use (75%) or spending on food (72%). Two-thirds said they had bought unhealthier food because it was cheaper (64%) and more than half (53%) had reduced spending on essential toiletries and hygiene products.

The survey also highlights a ‘mental illness premium’, with people having to spend more because of their condition. Almost three-fifths reported higher utility costs due to spending more time at home because they struggle to go outside (59%). One in five had to pay for private therapy due to NHS support either being unavailable or waits being too long (20%), and the same proportion had to pay for taxies to appointments due to public transport being unavailable or inaccessible (21%).

“These devastating statistics underline the catastrophic impact of the cost-of-living crisis on people’s mental health. In a situation that can often prove overwhelming, any opportunity to signpost people severely affected by mental illness to free specialist debt and money advice is crucial, and sometimes just one conversation can be a lifesaver.

Health and social care professionals don’t need to be financial experts, but asking people about their debt, the same way they might ask them about their alcohol intake or smoking, will make it easier to open up a conversation that can identify if they would benefit from specialist financial support that can make a meaningful difference to their mental health.”

– Brian Dow, Chief Executive of Mental Health UK

Final Demand is based on a programme of research and intervention led by Dr Chris Fitch, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the charity Mental Health UK. The guide, which has also been produced in collaboration with people who have direct experience of mental health problems, updates previous guidance which has to-date helped more than 200,000 health and social care professionals across the country.

“It is crucial that every GP, adult social worker, and mental health nurse knows how to talk about debt. We need to make sure people with mental health problems get the help they need to prevent a problem turning into a crisis. This guide offers practical and straightforward advice on how to do just that.”

– Dr Chris Fitch, Vulnerability Lead at the Money Advice Trust

The resource highlights that mental health and money problems often go hand in hand and encourages health and social care professionals to ask the people they’re supporting about their financial circumstances, helping them to access free debt advice before they reach crisis point.

Mental Health and Money Advice

Go to the Final Demand Guide

"People living with a mental illness often live under financial strain. They are more likely to have less income and more financial hardship and debt than those living without a mental illness.

Whilst problem debt may be a result of experiencing mental illness, it is also a cause, and can worsen and prolong it as well as delay recovery. Ultimately, debt may have disastrous consequences for individuals and their families.

Psychiatrists, along with many other clinicians, are intensely aware of this and each day see the effects of financial hardships on their patients. Clinicians can play their part in helping their patients’ who are in problem debt but need the collaboration of a range of other bodies including money advice, financial and social care organisations."

– Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Media enquiries: For further information or more detail from case studies, please contact Jamie Morrell, Senior Media Officer, via [email protected] or call 0207 840 3138.

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