Unemployed people show signs of serious mental health issues during pandemic

Mental Health Foundation research into the impact of coronavirus on mental health revealed "disturbing" results

Financial and employment difficulties brought about by coronavirus are having a major impact on the mental health of the nation, new research suggests.

A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that a fifth (20 per cent) of unemployed people reported having suicidal thoughts and feelings in the last two weeks – more than double the rate among UK adults generally.

The report also showed that more than a third (34 per cent) of adults still in full-time work were concerned about losing their jobs, with one in 10 saying nothing is helping them cope with the stress.

A third of all people surveyed by the charity – 4,246 in total – said they were worried about being able to pay their bills.

The research into the mental health risks and impacts of the pandemic, carried out between April 24-26, provide “very concerning evidence that many millions of people in the UK are worrying about fundamental financial matters and their job security”, according to foundation director Dr Antonis Kousoulis, who concluded that both are closely linked to poor mental health.

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“However, it is also important to recognise that within the overall picture, it is people who were already unemployed at the start of the pandemic who are being most seriously affected,” he added. “It is disturbing that more than one in 10 people who are unemployed and who have experienced stress during the pandemic said nothing has helped them cope with it.”

Kousoulis said we should expect things to get worse, especially for the poorest people, unless the government takes urgent action to improve economic security for millions of households.

“The financial inequalities that lead to increased and unequal rates of mental ill-health will be intensified — and the benefits of recovery and coming out of the lockdown will not be shared equally,” he said.

The Mental Health Foundation is working with researchers at the University of Cambridge, Swansea University, University of Strathclyde and Queen’s University Belfast on the project looking at how the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health.

The Government must provide an “economic safety net for all, both during and after the pandemic,” the charity said – and that should start by making the Universal Credit advance payment a non-repayable grant.

The mental health impacts of the pandemic will not be felt equally across our society

The advance is currently used to cover for the five-week wait that people face when they start receiving Universal Credit payments, and the recipient is expected to pay it back over the following 12 months.

Swansea University’s Ann John said: “We know that the mental health impacts of job loss and economic or employment uncertainty, compounded by financial worries about housing, heating and food can be serious they can also contribute to feelings of hopelessness. 

“We know the mental health impacts of the pandemic will not be felt equally across our society and governmental actions need to reflect that. Financial safety nets are needed in the short term, but – moving forward – we will need economic action such as active labour-market policies.”

Samaritans’ free helpline number is 116 123. Calls to this helpline number do not appear on phone bills. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone who is struggling to cope.