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Welfare reforms are affecting nation’s health

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​New research shows people are becoming increasingly depressed because of the impact of welfare reforms

There is clear evidence that facing financial stress or living on a low-income has a significant impact on an individual’s mental health - Billy Watson

Mental illness is increasing under the UK government’s welfare reforms, a leading charity has warned.

Worries about how to pay bills and rent, or affording food and fuel due to recent welfare cuts are seriously impacting the nation’s mental health, according to new research by the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH).

The survey of SAMH staff and service users revealed 98% believed recent changes to the benefits system has had a detrimental effect on mental health – including increased stress and anxiety.

Part of the charity’s Know Where to Go campaign, the Worried Sick report reveals 79% of service users said they were facing a reduced income as a result of the changes. Nearly nine out of 10 staff also now having to provide increased levels of support to service users.

As well as additional mental health and emotional help, there were six incidents in which SAMH staff had to carry out suicide interventions directly related to welfare reform issues.

Billy Watson, chief executive, SAMH said: “There is clear evidence that facing financial stress or living on a low-income has a significant impact on an individual’s mental health. Recent welfare reforms concern us, as many people with mental health problems are simply too unwell to work, leaving them reliant on welfare support while they recover.

“Some 80 per cent of SAMH service staff have said they are providing increasing levels of mental health and emotional support, including suicide interventions, as a result of the impact of these welfare reforms.”

In addition to the financial pressures of a reduced income a third (33%) of people surveyed reported feeling stigmatised for receiving benefits.

One focus group participant said: “If you’re not feeding yourself properly, you start to get restless. It’s about your energy. Depression is like you’re in a swimming pool with a beach ball and all your emotions and all your feelings are the beach ball and you’re pushing it down and you’re pushing it down. And that takes a lot of energy, and people are just knackered and they don’t know why.”

SAMH has teamed up with Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) to help people Know Where to Go when they are worried about their mental health. SAMH has issued Know Where to Go guides to all Citizens Advice Bureaux to support staff coming into contact with individuals in distress.