THE spiralling cost of living is causing more people to seek mental-health services, according to a senior health official, at a time when public support systems are already under pressure following the pandemic.
Speaking during Mental Health Awareness Week, director of mental health and adult social care Andy Weir warned that demand would continue to increase unless issues such as poverty were addressed.
Earlier this week the government said it would ‘continue to monitor’ the cost of living – including the impact of global fuel prices and local pump prices – after a petition by ATF Fuels director Jonathan Best calling for an ‘immediate’ fuel duty cut of 2.5 pence per litre received over 2,000 signatures.
Fuel, food, electricity and housing are some of the areas that have been subject to growing costs, with Jersey Electricity confirming prices would rise 5% in July and again by the same amount in January – with each jump adding around £1 a week to the average domestic bill.
The Salvation Army recently warned that they were seeing an increase in Islanders who had reached ‘crisis point’ and were issuing around ten food bags per day.
Mr Weir said: ‘Are we seeing an increase in demand across mental-health services in relation to poverty? Absolutely. There is no doubt that when people experience significant poverty or significant challenges in terms of the amount of money they have, availability of food, availability of activities or social contact – that impacts on their mental health.’
He added: ‘People need to feel safe; they need to feel able to manage their day-to-day lives and if you are living hand-to-mouth, then that becomes much trickier.’
He recounted an example someone had given at a recent meeting of an individual who had referred themselves to a service and said they could not afford to feed their children, despite being employed.
Commenting on whether this trend was likely to continue, he said: ‘Yes, I am sure it will – especially if poverty, unemployment, social isolation and struggle increases, as evidenced by an increase in mental-health need etcetera during and following any period of recession.’
He added: ‘The mental-health strategy cannot just be about what mental-health services are going to do. Because mental-health services can do all sorts of stuff, but if people have got nowhere to live, no money and no food – then anything we do in terms of intervention is going to be very limited in its impact.’
The spiralling cost of living in Jersey is likely to compound the post-Covid spike in demand for services, with the stress of the pandemic and the isolation people suffered as a result believed to be behind an increased demand across the UK and British Isles for mental-health support.
Mr Weir said: ‘The difficulty that we have got is increased activity as a result of Covid in lots of psychological therapies, including Jersey Talking Therapies – and this isn’t just here, this is a key problem in the UK at the moment.’