Almost 20 million adults never speak about mental health – and it’s set to get worse due to the cost-of-living crisis

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More than one in three UK adults surveyed (36 per cent) never make space in their day or the time to speak about their mental health – the equivalent of 19.6 million people aged 16 and over.

And the cost-of-living crisis, on top of the long lasting impact of the pandemic, is affecting people’s ability to make space and manage their mental health. The mental health of nearly 8 in 10 Britons (78 per cent) surveyed has been affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

The poll of more than 5,000 people was conducted as part of Time to Talk Day, the nation’s biggest conversation about mental health. It aims to spark millions of conversations about mental health in communities, schools, homes, workplaces and online across the UK.

Worryingly, nearly a fifth (18 per cent) are also reporting the cost-of-living crisis is decreasing how often they are able to make space to have a conversation about mental health. Almost half (46%) of respondents said that their reason for fewer conversations is that everyone is struggling right now and they don’t want to burden others.

Cost of living crisis is taking its toll

Previous research by Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and Co-op for *Time to Talk Day 2022 found that 39 per cent said that their mental health had got worse since the pandemic. 41 per cent of those who experienced their mental health worsening at any point during the pandemic blamed it on money worries. The cumulative effect of Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis is taking its toll on the nation’s mental health.

Activities like Time To Talk Day are helping, by providing tips and resources for having those conversations. The latest research found that:

  • Almost a third (32 per cent) say more knowledge and understanding around mental health would make it easier to talk about mental health (down from 40 per cent in 2022)
  • 3 in 10 would welcome tips to help people start a conversation (30 per cent)
  • A fifth (22 per cent) say it would help to have someone in their local community who can offer support with their mental health.

Yet the cost-of-living crisis threatens to significantly hinder our ability to continue with the everyday ways we usually look after our mental health. Those for whom the cost-of-living crisis caused a decrease in how they make space to have a conversation about their mental health, the survey also reveals that:

  • A quarter of respondents (25 per cent) can’t afford social activities that help them stay mentally well
  • A quarter (25 per cent) are having to work longer hours due to the rising cost of living so have less free time
  • A shocking 16% simply can’t afford to contact their support network to have these conversations (e.g. over phone, text, social media), showing the real impact of digital poverty
  • 18% can’t afford to travel to their usual support networks in communities.

And it’s feared the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on our mental health will become even worse – just over three fifths (61 per cent[2]) of those who have seen a decrease in the number of conversations expect this.

Time to Talk

Time to Talk Day 2023 is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in England, See Me with SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) in Scotland, Inspire and Change Your Mind in Northern Ireland and Time to Change Wales. It is being delivered in partnership with Co-op as part of a shared ambition to reach those who wouldn’t usually engage with mental health support.

James Downs, 33, is a yoga teacher from Cambridge who has lived experience of eating disorders, autism, and ADHD. He finds it very difficult to talk to others about his mental health and has been worrying about money a lot since the cost of living crisis. He says:

“The lack of obvious spaces and people to talk to about mental health has left me feeling even more on my own. The loneliness and isolation have played a huge role in keeping me unwell. So often, it’s only when things reach a critical point and I know that I have to talk to someone about my mental health that I do. I think turning this around and having conversations in everyday settings can help prevent things reaching crisis in the first place and direct people to additional help and support if they need it.”

Jordan Yeates, 30, from Northamptonshire has lived experience of anxiety and depression. He works as a freelance photographer, but he also works in a coffee shop part time – where he makes space to talk about mental health. He says:

“Some people who I know are having to work two jobs now to keep up with the rising costs of living, so they have less time to meet with friends and talk about how they’re feeling. There’s pressure to get your head down, work and stay at home.

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“Personally, I used to see my friends about once a week for a coffee or drinks, but in the last few months I’ve only seen them two or three times. The act of socialising is changing due to financial difficulty, so finding the time and space to talk is harder.”

Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“It’s vital we make space in the day for a conversation about mental health. Yet so many of us are finding that looking after our mental health has taken a back seat. Worryingly we fear stigma if we speak up, we can no longer afford to access the things or places that keep us mentally well, or we don’t want to be a burden on others. We know that talking about our mental health and listening to others about their experiences can help us feel less alone, more able to cope, and encouraged to seek support if we need to. That’s why it’s time to talk and to listen this Time to Talk Day.”

Rebecca Birkbeck, Director of Community and Member Participation, Co-op, said:

“With the cost-of-living crisis, and the ongoing impacts from the pandemic, it’s never been more important for us to be able to talk about how we’re feeling – and making connections in our community can play a key part in this. Our research shows a fifth of people rely on their communities for support, that’s why we’ve been working in partnership with Mind, SAMH, Inspire and others to bring communities together to kickstart conversations this Time to Talk Day.”

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