Soaring energy and food bills will create a “huge mental health crisis” this winter putting further strain on services and risking “people’s life chances”, NHS leaders have warned.
As household bills dramatically increase, Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers which represents NHS trusts across England, said there was a direct link between deprivation and a surge in demand for care which is already being felt.
The need for mental health services has already skyrocketed over the last year with referrals to adult mental health services hitting a monthly record of 425,000 in March and 1.2 million adults also waiting for community mental health care.
Ms Cordery told The Independent: “We are going to see huge mental health crises emerging from the cost of living challenges that we’re facing, because we know the direct link between deprivation, worklessness, potential homelessness, child poverty and the increase in demand for mental health services.”
“We saw it a few years ago with the changes to Universal Credit (benefit) which brought about quite far reaching challenges,” she added.
The result will be “pressure on the whole system” as well as impacts on “people’s life chances and outcomes”.
Consumers have been warned they face potentially “catastrophic” months ahead by a leading energy firm, with millions struggling to feed their families and heat their homes.
Half of UK households could be in fuel poverty in January unless the government does more to help, the energy giant EDF estimates and another huge rise in the energy price cap will be announced this week, following predictions inflation could hit 18 per cent.
Sean Duggan, chief executive for NHS Confederation’s mental health network said the cost of living crisis was already creating demand for services “and will get worse, we’re definitely hearing that from [mental health trusts].”
And major mental health charity Mind told The Independent it has seen a 30 per cent rise in the last year in people calling its helpline with difficulties with finances and debt.
Olly Parker, head of external affairs at YoungMinds also warned: “We are now seeing the first signs of the cost of living crisis having an impact on children and young people’s mental health. Young adults are clearly worried about their finances and children are starting to take note of the worrying conversations around the kitchen table.”
He added: “What’s even more concerning is that things are expected to get a lot worse.”
Mental health services, like those for physical health, are already under pressure after the Covid pandemic, Ms Cordery added, in part because those who present themselves for treatment tend to be more unwell than in previous years. This also means ambulances, already in short demand, are more likely to be called.
She said: “If you talk to any trust chief executive, but particularly an ambulance service chief executive or hospital chief executive, they will tell you that this is the most pressurised they’ve seen it in their careers. It really is bad.”
This week The Independent revealed that the number of people waiting for community mental health care has risen to 1.2 million, with the NHS missing several targets.
Lancashire Care Foundation Trust, which covers some of the most deprived populations in the country, said in its July board papers it had seen a 20 per cent increase in demand for services. It said a “surge” in demand for adult services, which started in early 2022 has continued during the summer.
For children’s mental health services demand has been 15 per cent higher in the first six months of the year compared to 2021, according to its data.
A survey of leaders of Mental Health Trusts in 2018, carried out by NHS Providers, found 9 in 10 said changes to Universal Credit and other benefits had led to increased demand for services.
Rosena Allin-Khan, shadow mental health minister, also warned of the link between deprivation and mental illness. “Mental health services are already under immense strain, with waiting lists growing, some children waiting years for treatment, and people forced to wait days in A&E departments in crisis because no mental health beds are available,” she added.
“The Conservatives’ cost of living crisis is yet another strain on mental health services.”
A government spokesperson said ministers had announced £37billion of targeted support to help people through the winter. She added: “We are expanding and transforming mental health services which will see over £2.3 billion of additional funding a year by 2024 – helping an extra two million people across England to get help.”