How does financial hardship/insecurity affect mental health and suicidality?
Suicide is complex and is rarely caused by one thing. However, there is strong evidence of associations between financial difficulties, mental health and suicide. Struggling to make ends meet can lead to feelings of anxiety and shame. These feelings can themselves impact our motivation and ability to manage our money, and some people may experience a sense of entrapment or loss of control. All these feelings are associated with suicide. These stressors will not be experienced by everyone equally, with those already in lower income households or with pre-existing mental health conditions likely to be among those worst impacted.
Alongside these stressors, the current crisis may lead to more people experiencing other risk factors for suicide and poor mental health, such as unmanageable debt.
Is everyone impacted by the cost-of-living crisis? Are some people impacted more than others?
High levels of inflation impact everyone, as the prices of household necessities like energy and food increase. However, this impact will not be equal – people with the lowest levels of income will be hardest hit, and we know that people in this group are already at higher risk of suicide. People among the poorest 10% of society are more than twice as likely to die from suicide compared to the wealthiest 10% of society. The reasons for this go beyond the current crisis, covering a wide range of issues. However, the cost-of-living crisis will put further pressure on people who are already at greater risk of suicide.
For households in receipt of social security benefits, the value of these benefits has not increased in line with inflation. Households that rely on this money will therefore be substantially worse off in real terms as prices rise.
Another group that may be harder hit are those with pre-existing mental health conditions. These two groups are not mutually exclusive, with mental health conditions more prevalent among people in lower income households. The cost-of-living crisis has arrived in the context of significant rises in the number of people seeking support for their mental health, following the Covid pandemic. Following the pandemic, there has been rising demand for mental health support and unprecedented waiting lists for mental health services across the UK and Republic of Ireland have led to many struggling to get help.
Can debt impact suicide rates?
As prices rise, people may be more likely to find themselves in debt in order to pay for essentials. Unmanageable debt is a risk factor of suicide, with a 2018 study finding that 23% of people who attempted suicide in the year prior were in problem debt. Indebtedness (ranging from mortgage arrears to debts to friends and family) has also been found to be associated with other risk factors for suicide, notably depression and anxiety.
What can Samaritans do if I am struggling with the cost of living?
At Samaritans, we are here to listen. Whatever you’re going through, whether that be worried about the cost of living or anything else, a Samaritan is there to help. We are here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide non-judgmental support – we are here for anyone who needs someone.