By Jessica Lindsay
Have you ever been so skint that you had a nap for dinner? We’ve all had times when we’ve been waiting patiently for payday and living on a shoestring until then. It feels depressing knowing you can’t treat yourself or go out to do something you enjoy. Imagine, then, that there was never going to be that payday windfall coming in, and you have to constantly live like that. That’s the reality for so many people in the UK and beyond, and can be utterly demoralising.
Poverty has a number of effects on physical health, as it can limit people’s access to healthcare, and alter their diet and habits. It can also take a huge toll of people’s mental health, though, and change their whole outlook on life. When you have a low income, there is no room for error. Your money is all accounted for, and without that disposable cash, it can leave you feeling trapped. Similarly, those who have high amounts of debt have higher levels of stress and anxiety. Who wouldn’t, with all that pressure?
‘Struggling to get by on a low income can lead to stress, and worrying about finances can affect mood, sleep, eating habits and the quality of your relationships, all of which are important factors in mental health, psychologist Honey Langcaster-James tells Metro.co.uk. ‘A low income may lead to a poor diet too which can have an adverse impact on mental and emotional wellbeing. ‘Having less disposable income can also lead to social isolation if you’re not able to engage in social activities. We know that social support and positive social interaction is vital for mental health so if you’re having to make choices that reduce your ability to engage and spend fun times with others that too can reduce your mental wellbeing.’
There are plenty of rightwing rent-a-gobs hired to spout the idea that people living in poverty should simply forgo luxuries like big televisions or certain foods. The problem here, though, is that although doing that might save a few pennies in the short term, it removes people’s sources of entertainment and comfort. Those of us lucky enough to afford trips to the cinema or a bit of retail therapy here and there are never vilified for it. These things make life worth living, by giving us variety and happiness. Everybody deserves that sense of release. The ability to actually address the depression and anxiety this causes can also be limited. Honey continues: ‘Individuals suffering from mental illness or experiencing poor mental health may not be able to access the vital support and services they need as readily as those with a higher income, even travelling to health-related appointments can be cost prohibitive for many experiencing financial hardship.’
According to Samaritans, unemployed people are two to three times more likely to die by suicide. This is a shocking statistic but it isn’t surprising. Economic inequality is nothing new, but as our understanding of mental health issues grows, we all have a responsibility to look at the link between the two and address this. That means government schemes that get into deprived areas and teach people about mental health and offer direct help. On a less grand scale, it means recognising when friends or family might be struggling and lending an ear when you can. Don’t dismiss people that need extra support, because while you may see unemployment or low income on the surface, their issues could run a lot deeper.