People with long-term mental health problems twice as likely to struggle financially during pandemic

Up to one in five people with a history of poor mental health said they were ‘much worse off’ financially a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to one in ten of those who had never had psychological problems, according to evidence from BCS70 and another study of people born in 1958.

If you are struggling with your mental health

Call Samaritans for free at 116 123. You can call the Samaritans helpline about anything that’s upsetting you. They are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The charity Mind also has a useful list of other mental health helplines on their website.

What we asked you

At ages 26, 34, 42 and 46, we asked you questions about how you feel, which can gauge whether you’re showing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

You also reported on your mental health three times during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic: in May 2020, September/October 2020, and February/March 2021.

During the pandemic, we also asked whether your financial situation had got worse, better or stayed the same, compared to before the coronavirus outbreak. We asked about your employment status at each survey, and how you were managing your personal finances.

What the researchers found

Those from your generation who have experienced poor mental health across adult life were:

  • almost three times as likely to receive financial help or borrow from friends and relatives during the pandemic, compared to those who had never had mental health problems
  • almost twice as likely to take out bank loans or use credit cards
  • more likely to make new benefit claims, and to take payment holidays from their mortgage, rent, council tax or other repayments.

Periods of poor mental health have potentially long-lasting impacts

Among your generation, those who had poor mental health in their mid-20s, but who had since improved, were still one and a half times as likely to borrow from banks and use credit cards as their peers who had never experienced mental health problems in adulthood.

Dr Vanessa Moulton, the lead researcher, said: “Those who had experienced symptoms of psychological distress more than 20 years ago also remained more susceptible to the economic shockwaves of the pandemic than those who never had mental health problems. This new study puts into focus the long-lasting impact poor mental health can have, and how abrupt economic events can heighten earlier vulnerabilities.”

Why this research is important

It’s important to know who was more likely to struggle financially during the pandemic, because these people are also likely to be more vulnerable to the cost-of-living crisis and economic recession. The government should focus on developing long-term solutions to improve mental health support and access to financial guidance for those who need it.

Read the full research report

Adult life-course trajectories of psychological distress and economic outcomes in midlife during the COVID-19 pandemic: evidence from the 1958 and 1970 British birth cohorts by Vanessa Moulton et al. was published in the scientific journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology in January 2023.