The UK is facing a mental health crisis and it is largely due to our broken economic system. Almost three quarters of people (74%) felt at some point last year they were so stressed that they were unable to cope, and a third of people in Britain have experienced suicidal feelings.
The New Economics Foundation has analysed hospital admission data from 2016/2017 and found that there were 17,500 episodes where stress or anxiety was the primary cause for hospital admission. This led to 165,800 days where beds were occupied due to stress or anxiety, at a cost to the taxpayer of £71.1 million (1). When we look at episodes where stress or anxiety was a secondary cause, there were a staggering 203,700 episodes.
We deserve a better future, and a society that doesn’t make us feel this way.
As more and more people are struggling with the pressure of debt, insecure housing, insecure work and a lack of support, this number is only likely to increase.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be like this. We know some of the leading causes of stress, and we have the solutions.
The problem: 526,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17 leading to 12.5 million working days lost. This leads to lost output for employers and the self-employed of £33.4 – £43.0 billion per year, and lost tax/national insurance revenue to the public purse of £10.8 – £14.4 billion per year. The biggest single cause of workplace stress – in 44% of cases – is workload. Another key cause of workplace stress is insecurity. Those with a precarious relationship to the labour market such as shift workers and those on zero hours contracts are at higher risk of poor mental health – and having a bad job can be even worse for your health than unemployment.
The impact of mental health on workers is not evenly distributed in the labour market. Over the last three years, reported levels of workplace stress have been around a third higher for women compared to men. Public sector workers (especially those in the NHS) are more likely to suffer the adverse effects of overwork – the costs per employee of poor mental health across the public sector are highest amongst healthcare employees, at £1,794 – 2,174 per annum.
The solution: shifting perspective from quantity of work to quality of work.. Shorter working hours in Sweden has led to higher productivity and fewer sick days. The time for a shorter working week is now, and NEF has long campaigned that a shorter working week would address overwork, unemployment and low wellbeing.
The problem: Housing issues can make mental health issues worse – or even cause them. Living in poor or housing has detrimental effects on mental health and wellbeing through exposure to noise, antisocial behaviour and the physical defects of houses which can lead to a stress response. Insecure housing and involuntary house moves can mean people’s feelings of personal insecurity increase and can disrupt relationships with social support networks.
One in five English adults surveyed said a housing issue had negatively impacted upon their mental health in the last five years, and one in 20 said they had gone to their GP in the last five years with a stress-related housing issue. This costs the NHS £17.6 million per year (2).
The solution: Build more good-quality and genuinely affordable housing. We know that councils and public authorities have valuable land that could be used to build new affordable rented housing we desperately need.
The problem: Along with the financial worries, struggling with debt may often lead to depression, anxiety and stress. Not having money restricts choices and can wreck havoc on your psyche. Four in 10 British adults are worried about their level of debt.
There is a proven link between debt and poor mental health: A study from 2010 found that half of UK adults in problem debt were also living with mental ill-health.
The solution: NEF is part of a coalition calling for a 100% cap to be introduced on the total cost of any credit card debt – so that people are not forced to pay back more on in interest on a loan than they originally borrowed, and putting a halt to spiralling debt.
We are making ourselves ill, but we do have remedies
Let’s take an opportunity this mental health awareness week to recognise the burdens our societal structures are placing on us and start working towards the solutions. We are making ourselves ill, but we do have remedies!
What all of this shows is not only how our broken economy is impacting on people’s lives but how urgently we need to come up with solutions to these problems. Through a combination of improving the quality of our jobs, redistributing workload, creating affordable homes, reducing debt and supporting carers we can build a new economy that works for everyone and allows us to flourish rather than burdening us with stress.
(1) Assuming a cost per bed day of £429 (source: http://www.cchr.org.uk/latest-news/cost-detained-psychiatric-ward-treated/)
(2) Assuming a cost of £37 per GP appointment (PSSRU), a population of 43.5 million English adults (ONS) and assuming GP appointments are evenly distributed over the five years
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