COVID-19: Charities call for better economic policies to combat rise in mental health issues
Two Welsh charities have called for better strategies to tackle poverty as new research reveals the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of lower income populations.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, evidence has shown a gradual deterioration in people's mental health over time, particularly during periods of strict lockdown.
In fact, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that life satisfaction and happiness scores recently hit their lowest since March 2020.
Similar findings have been seen in Wales, prompting the Welsh government to issue a statement outlining new measures to remedy the problem.
Carried out by Samaritans Cymru and Citizens Advice Cymru, a new survey shows that 67% of people in Wales say their mental health has suffered during the pandemic.
But among those who have lost their job, the figure is much higher at 93% due to money worries, stress or anxiety, or feeling there was no-one to talk to about their issues.
In addition, Samaritans says that a significant proportion of calls it receives are about mental health and illness, relationships, isolation and loneliness, while volunteer feedback shows that many callers are worried about basic needs like food, housing and employment.
In response to the survey's findings, Citizens Advice Cymru and Samaritans Cymru are calling for the introduction of better policies to tackle unemployment and poverty in order to protect those hit hardest by the pandemic against suffering a longer-term impact on their lives.
"Many people who have lost jobs or seen their hours cut during the crisis have found themselves in a difficult financial situation and are struggling to get by," said Citizens Advice Cymru Director, Rebecca Woolley. "That causes a huge amount of stress and anxiety, and makes it much harder for people to manage their money or look for other work.
"We need urgent action in Wales to address emerging issues, like debt and unemployment, which have an adverse impact on mental health."
Sarah Stone, Executive Director for Samaritans Cymru added her thoughts:
"We continue to call for a centralised strategy for poverty which promotes cross-governmental and cross sectoral involvement in Wales. The current coronavirus outbreak is most detrimental to those in the most difficult circumstances, for example those struggling with debt or unemployment.
"We need to be prepared as a nation, to support those who are most in need both now and in the future.
"These efforts to help those experiencing the effects of poverty should be seen a crucial form of suicide prevention."
The findings come on the same day as the Socio-economic Duty comes into force in Wales.
Part of the Equality Act 2010, the Socio-economic Duty asks public bodies to consider the impact of strategic decisions on those from a socio-economic disadvantage, with the overall aim to improve outcomes for low income populations.
The commencement date for the guidance was originally slated as 29th September 2020, but this was revised to March 31st 2021 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health