Nearly 50 per cent of 16-24 year olds in Scotland said that their financial situation negatively impacts their mental health, a new study has revealed.
The research — conducted by the charity Money Advice Scotland (MAS) — found that 47 per cent of this age group suffered mentally due to money issues, while 38 per cent would be unable to cope with an unexpected bill of £100 or more.
Older people consulted by MAS — which reports that existing inequalities in Scotland have been widened by the Covid-19 pandemic — also said that money problems cause them anguish, with nearly one fifth of this demographic unable to pay a bill over £100.
Campaign groups told The Ferret the findings are evidence that inequality has a “stark” impact on mental health. Holyrood needs to ensure that improved access to mental health support is a “long-term legacy” of the economic recovery from Covid-19, they added.
The Scottish Government— which supported the research— noted that £7.4m of funding had been allocated to provide free debt advice, adding it is committed to “better alignment of mental health policy with work to tackle poverty”.
MAS researched the need for a user-centred money guidance programme in Scotland. The charity argues this new approach would help people better manage their money, understand financial products, and build financial resilience.
Its report is based on a survey of 329 people aged 16-24 and 945 people over 55 years of age, who were split into different focus groups based on their level of financial comfort.
Nineteen per cent of over 55s reported that finances had a detrimental effect on their mental health, while 18 per cent of this group said they would be unable to deal with an unexpected bill of over £100.
Financial comfort for young people surveyed was largely determined by their access to parental support. Respondents without access to a parental safety net said they were more likely to rely on higher cost forms of credit, like payday loans, to get by.
Among the older respondents, the biggest factor determining financial comfort was whether or not they owned property.
Respondents from both age groups who struggled financially before the pandemic have been more likely to see their circumstances deteriorate than those who were comfortable before the virus hit.
Marlena McFarlane, financial wellbeing lead at MAS told The Ferret that it was clear that money has “a significant impact on young people’s mental health”.
She said: “Many young people recognise how difficult it is to get on the property ladder and meet their financial goals compared to older generations. Many we spoke to were affected by the pandemic, losing jobs and using savings to get by.
“Although there is no easy fix while broader issues exist, we believe that breaking down the stigma associated with money and encouraging people to talk about finances helps. We believe increasing engagement and opening up discussions around money are key to alleviating its impacts on mental health.”
Danielle Rowley, influencing manager at Samaritans Scotland, pointed out that people living in deprived communities are “three times more likely to take their own life compared to people living in wealthier communities”.
Rowley said: “Our recent research, exploring the impact of the pandemic on young adults, found that those who had experienced economic disruption over the past year reported feelings of defeat, shame and hopelessness and were more likely to feel suicidal.
“The impact of inequality on mental health and wellbeing is stark. It is vital that government considers the long-term impact of this economic disruption in its recovery and transition plans to ensure that improved mental health and wellbeing – not deeper inequality – is the long-term legacy.”
“With the cost of energy, food and other essentials soaring, an increasing number of older people may find themselves facing financial difficulty and the detrimental impact this can have on mental health,” Sloan added.
“Every year hundreds of millions of pounds in vital financial support go unclaimed by older people in Scotland. This support could be making a real difference to the lives of those on low incomes.”
The Scottish Government has faced criticism over waiting times for mental health appointments on the NHS.
It was reported in December 2021 that nearly 400 children and young people had been waiting over two years for their mental health treatment to begin. Children in the Ayrshire and Arran health board had the longest to wait for support, at an average of 919 days.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The impact of the pandemic on low income households has been profound. Many were struggling before but, as a result of Covid-19, they have been able to save less and some have taken on more debt.
“Poverty is the single biggest driver of poor mental health. Our mental health Transition and Recovery Plan commits to better alignment of mental health policy with work to tackle poverty and reduce inequality.
Photo Credit: iStock/Marjan Apostolovic