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Cost of living crisis leading to 'learned helplessness' for many

Image of supermarket shelves
Charles Gao | Unsplash

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

The cost of living crisis is having a significant negative impact on emotional health and mental well-being, according to new research from Swansea University.

Unsurprisingly, the study found that the financial crisis is causing increased stress and anxiety due to uncertainty about the future, especially for households on lower incomes.

The study examined how people have experienced the crisis, alongside how it has affected their physical and mental health, and how they are trying to cope with it.

The researchers have been studying participants’ well-being and experiences as part of Swansea University’s Public Views on the Coronavirus Pandemic study since March 2020.

The study highlighted several points:

  • People from deprived areas on insecure (zero-hours) or low incomes have experienced the greatest increase in feelings of worry and anxiety towards not being able to afford necessities.

  • People on higher incomes that were not worried about themselves were worried about others, especially vulnerable family and friends, with them ‘keeping charity closer to home’ by donating to friends and family rather than charities.

  • People feel a ‘lack of control’ and are fearful about a ‘bleak’ or ‘uncertain’ future, with some reporting feelings of ‘learned helplessness’.

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has made this cost of living crisis harder for some as they have already experienced two years of major stress and uncertainty.

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has led to some feeling more prepared to cope with the crisis, either through stronger community and support links or increased psychological resilience.

Co-author of the study, Dr Simon Williams, said:

“Our study shows that many people are struggling with their mental health during the cost of living crisis. Anxiety and fear over the future is high, and likely to increase as the crisis deepens.

"Our study found that people are having to take drastic measures to ‘heat or eat’, for example, boiling a kettle and adding it to cold bath water to try and have a warm bath, or relying on food banks for food.

“The cost of living crisis is not is not an equal crisis. Those on low or insecure income or from deprived communities are experiencing more worry, higher levels of anxiety and the greatest dread over the future. As one participant put it: ‘What is this life? It's not living. It's like existence. It's not even existing’.”

Research highlights birdsong benefits for mental health

An international study has found that watching and listening to birds elevates mood, even for those with depression.

King’s College London collected the data through its Urban Mind smartphone app, developed alongside Nomad Projects and J&L Gibbons.

Between April 2018 and October 2021 the app was downloaded by 1300 people from across the UK, EU and US.

The app would send participants three daily notifications asking whether birds could be seen or heard nearby, and a questionnaire to assess mental well-being.

The results suggested that participants mental well-being improved significantly when they could see birds or hear them singing.

Participants also provided information on current mental health diagnoses. Interestingly, participants with depression also experienced a positive mental health effect after seeing or hearing birds.

Researchers also took into account the mental health benefits of simply paying attention to nature, with the effect still being present when this was mediated.

Lead researcher Ryan Hammoud, from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, said:

“There is growing evidence on the mental health benefits of being around nature and we intuitively think that the presence of birdsong and birds would help lift our mood.

“However, there is little research that has actually investigated the impact of birds on mental health in real-time and in a real environment.

“We hope this evidence can demonstrate the importance of protecting and providing environments to encourage birds, not only for biodiversity but for our mental health.”

University raises alarm over lack of student mental health services

University staff in Wales have warned that they lack the training to help the increasing number of students self-harming and reporting suicidal thoughts.

The higher education union Unison Cymru conducted a survey on university staff, finding a workforce struggling to help with the sudden increase in the number of students requiring serious mental health support.

Union members, made up of maintenance staff to housekeepers, reported that they feel “ill-equipped to help students self-harming or considering suicide because they lack the training and resources to provide support.”

The situation has only been made worse by the staff themselves suffering from mental health issues due to low and insecure pay, the Union has said.

Lynne Hackett, Head of Higher Education at Union Cymru, said:

“We know that mental health issues do not just affect students but employees as well.

“There is a duty of care on employers to look after their employees, yet our survey reveals Welsh universities are not providing the mental health support their staff urgently require.

“This in turn will have an adverse effect on students, negatively impacting their health and their experience of university life.”

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