Calls to mental health charity reveal human cost of recession

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The Independent Online

High unemployment rates and rising living costs have led to a surge in calls to a leading mental health charity which is struggling to cope with demand.

Mind's infoline dealt with more than 40,000 calls in the past 12 months, but an unprecedented high volume meant two in every five calls went unanswered. The number of people seeking advice about personal finances and employment has doubled since the start of the financial slump in mid-2008.

The causal link between economic depression and mental health problems is well established, though Britain has thus far been spared from the rise in suicide seen in Greece and Ireland, where the financial collapse has been felt most acutely. The suicide of Dimitris Christoulas, 77, in Athens last month led to much soul searching, after his note said he could no longer live with dignity on a pension cut to the bone.

Mind's infoline, which provides advice ranging from how to access treatment to managing debts, dealt with 18 per cent more calls between October 2011 and April 2012 compared to the same period a year earlier. Calls to its legal line increased by 28 per cent. There are signs the impact of the ongoing crisis is spreading to previously unaffected families, with more and more employed people reliant on food handouts.

Mind's figures come as the country prepares for a double-dip recession and at least another year of pay freezes, and precarious employment. Yet many mental health groups face an uncertain future due to cuts. Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: "Dealing with this is a job for everyone, government, employers and charities, as getting Britain out of recession is as much about the mental health of the workforce as it is about economics."

Stress, depression and anxiety already cost the economy £30bn every year. This could be cut by a third if employers improved the way they dealt with workplace stress and mental ill-health.

Francoise, 49, a customer services co-ordinator at a blue chip company, became depressed about 18 months ago due to mounting work pressures. Poor concentration and anxiety made coping with work difficult until she reached breaking point last June. But with support from Mind, a therapist, medication and a psychiatric nurse, she will soon return to work.

Health minister Simon Burns said: "We are boosting funding for talking therapies by £400m over four years from April 2011. This will ensure that evidence-based therapies are available to all who need them."

Mounting pressure: depression in the UK

£30bn: Cost of mental health to England's economy every year

1 in 6: Number of adults experiencing mental health problems at any one time

46.7m antidepressant prescriptions dispensed by community pharmacists in 2011