Two new reports show that happiness levels in the UK have failed to recover to pre-pandemic levels, while anxiety levels have risen. My Mind News reveals more.
What do the figures show?
Happiness levels have failed to return to their pre-pandemic norm in the UK, particularly among younger people, new figures show. The damage caused by COVID-19 on the nation’s mental health, which is being compounded by the cost of living crisis, is said to be to blame.
The new figures show that 23% of Britons reported their life satisfaction was “very high” in the last quarter of 2022. This figure is down from an average of 30% in 2019 before the health crisis, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics.
This proportion dropped to 19% for people in their 20s, well below the 32% for those aged 60 and over, the data showed. The figures also indicated that the share of those reporting high levels of happiness was below 30%, down from an average of 35% in 2019.
In contrast, anxiety (which My Mind News will be focusing on this week) is up from pre-pandemic levels. Research carried out by the Mental Health Foundation in March 2023 on 6,000 UK adults found that nearly three-quarters of the population (73%) had felt anxious at least sometimes in the previous two weeks. They also found that 20% were anxious most or all the time. The fact that 45% of respondents kept their anxiety a secret due to the stigma and shame attached to these feelings meant they did not get any support.
In speaking to the Financial Times, Andy Bell, Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health charity, said,
“Mental wellbeing in the UK is deteriorating as the cost of living crisis continues to bite. As more people struggle financially, the risks to our mental health grow and more people find themselves experiencing low wellbeing.”
A system under pressure
The official figures chime with a large study by the Resolution Foundation think-tank, conducted in March 2023 which found that 30% of respondents (or 16 million adults) said their health had been negatively affected by rising living costs.
The proportion rose to two in five for people aged 25 to 34. In March, UK inflation was at 10.1%, according to UK Treasury figures, while food inflation reached a 45-year high of nearly 20%. Meanwhile, mortgage payments rose to the highest share of income since the 2008 financial crisis.
Simon Coombs, founder and director of Working Minds Group, a provider of wellbeing support, told the FT that food, water, and shelter, all key components for feeling secure, are all “currently under threat”.
The average waiting time for mental health support on the NHS is now between six and nine months in most areas of the UK, as the service struggles to cope with the combination of a jump in demand and long-term underfunding.
Alexa Knight, director of England at the Mental Health Foundation, told the FT that concerns about finances were reducing people’s ability to get good quality sleep, exercise, and spend time with friends and family, causing a “mental health emergency.”
Additionally, inflation and borrowing costs have surged in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, which itself took a heavy toll on people’s mental health. Brian Dow, deputy chief executive of Mental Health UK, has said that the cost of living has hampered the nation’s recovery from the pandemic and that, consequently, people’s wellbeing has clearly continued to suffer.
The pandemic was hard on everyone, in one way or another. This latest data confirms, however, just how hard things have been since the end of the health crisis. With prices rising faster than ever before, the pressure of household budgets is clearly hitting people hard. There is also a war to consider, plus various other factors, such as inflation, making people feel uneasy about many things.
With no relief on the horizon, for now, at least, those who are struggling most are finding help and support hard to source. With NHS mental health support services stretched like never before, waiting times are getting longer, and for all those in most need, their search for guidance and support is getting ever more desperate.
What are your thoughts on this data? Does it reflect how you are feeling at the moment? Tell us more in the comments.