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Mental health made worse in pandemic by class and poverty

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Depression and poor mental health have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Sadie Robinson explores a new report that shows how class affects people’s health and lives
Issue 2754
The number of adults suffering from depression has risen during the latest lockdown
The number of adults suffering from depression has risen during the latest lockdown (Pic: Wikicommons/ Jose Navarro)

Depression has soared during the pandemic—and if you’re poorer, younger, female or disabled you’re much more likely to have been affected.

A report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week looked at depression among adults in Britain in the first quarter of the year.

It revealed starkly how money and class shape the quality of people’s lives.

One in five adults, 21 percent, suffered some form of depression between January and March this year.

That’s more than double the 10 percent figure before the pandemic. It’s also an increase from November, when the figure was 19 percent.

A series of measures show that poorer people are much more likely to suffer depression than the rich.


Working age adults whose gross income is under £10,000 a year had the highest rates of depressive ­symptoms of all income groups.

Some 37 percent, or nearly four in ten, had suffered depression early this year. The figure for those ­earning £50,000 a year or more was one in ten.

Around 28 percent of adults living in the poorest areas of England suffer depressive symptoms—while 17 ­percent of those in the richest do.

And 35 percent of adults who couldn’t afford an unexpected expense of £850 had suffered depression, compared to 21 percent before the pandemic.

For those who could afford it, the rate was 13 percent—compared with 5 percent previously.

A massive 40 percent of ­unemployed adults experienced depression in early 2021, in comparison to 19 percent of employed or self‑employed people.

And those classed as ­“economically inactive” for reasons other than ­retirement had similar rates to ­unemployed workers.

Poor plunged further into poverty in pandemic, report finds
Poor plunged further into poverty in pandemic, report finds
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Renters had “the highest ­proportion of depressive symptoms when ­compared with all other tenure groups”.

Some 37 percent of renters reported depression, yet adults who own their home outright had the lowest rate at 13 percent. The biggest rises in rates of depressive symptoms took place among younger adults and people living with a child under 16 years old.

Before the pandemic 11 percent of adults aged between 16 and 39 reported depressive symptoms.

This year that rose by almost three times to 29 percent.

Adults aged between 16 and 29 had the highest odds of suffering depression of all age groups.

Clinical psychologist Dr Marianne Trent said the figures show “the brutal psychological fallout of the pandemic”.

“Once again young adults, whose jobs were often the first to go as many work in retail or hospitality, have been the hardest hit ­emotionally,” she said.

Trent said “money worries” and “economic uncertainty” are ­feeding depression, along with increased isolation.

“We are social beings and get a great deal of our self-soothing from being around others,” she added.

“With this being impossible for much of the past year, anxiety and depression will rise.”

Cuts cause chaos and misery for vulnerable in need

Cuts to council funding and key services has left vulnerable people without the care they need—often meaning that problems get worse.

One in four people currently have to wait over three months to access mental health services.

Lack of support and mental health problems can also send other issues, such as addictions, spiralling.

ONS figures last week showed that alcohol killed more people with conditions associated with alcohol in England and Wales last year than in any of the previous 20 years.

The 7,423 deaths from alcohol misuse last year represented a 20 percent rise on 2019 figures.

And deaths rose from March last year, when the first national lockdown was imposed.

Coronavirus, capitalism and a crisis of mental distress
Coronavirus, capitalism and a crisis of mental distress
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Once again, the poorest are most at risk. Men living in the most deprived areas of England were four times more likely to die from alcohol than those living in the richest areas.

Cuts in other areas have also created more mental health problems.

Support has been snatched from adults with care and support needs who desperately need it.

A recent survey by campaign group Social Care Future found that this has caused “huge distress”.

Some 81 percent of 250 respondents had faced cuts in packages or increased charges during the pandemic.

Charges meant some people had to stop care they needed, relying more on family members. One person told the group that their three daily care calls were cut to one a day for seven weeks.

They didn’t get dressed for this time, as there would be no carer to put them into night clothes later in the day.

Another was unable to go outside because there was no carer to take them.

The survey found that the cuts were linked to “high levels of deteriorating mental health, including suicidal thoughts”.

Women more likely to suffer

Women were more likely to experience some form of depression than men, across all age groups.

A staggering 43 percent of women between 16 and 29 suffered depressive symptoms compared with 26 percent of men of the same age.

Symptoms reported include lack of energy, poor appetite, sleeping problems, and feeling hopeless.

Highest odds for disabled people

Nearly four in ten disabled adults suffered depression in early 2021—three times more than adults without disabilities.

The ONS said disabled adults “had some of the highest odds of experiencing some form of depression”.

And 31 percent of clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV)

adults experienced depression, compared to 20 percent of non-CEV adults.

Number visiting GP decreases

Fewer adults have gone to GPs throughout the pandemic reporting symptoms of depression, despite the ONS findings.

Stephen Buckley from mental health charity Mind said this could be “because they’re concerned about placing extra pressure on the NHS”.

“This is worrying because left untreated, mental health problems become more difficult to treat.”

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