Coping with the mental health impact of winter in a financial crisis

‘Psychological insight won’t change objective reality’ (Picture: Getty Images/EyeEm)

The cost of living crisis feels particularly cruel right now.

The cost of energy is debilitating households up and down the nation, so as the weather worsens, so too will the mental states of those forced to choose between heating and eating.

Counselling Directory, which lists over 20,000 therapists from across the UK, conducted a survey which found 70% of them have had an increase in conversations around the cost of living crisis with their clients, and 47% have noticed a negative impact on their client’s mental health due to the crisis.

The inescapable fact is that mental suffering over money could be fixed with just that – money can get you access to services such as talking therapies.

So what can people do to cope if their financial situations remain unchanged?

Access free and low-cost support

Counselling Directory member Georgina Smith says there are budget-friendly ways to access talking therapy.

She tells us: ‘Charities like Relate will often offer subsidised or free sessions depending on income and personal circumstances. 

‘Private practitioners also will offer concessionary rates to low-income or certain professions (students, emergency services workers etc). 

‘If you are in paid employment, investigate if your employer has an Employee Assistance Programme which often provides free sessions to employees (and sometimes family members).’

‘One of the hardest things with mental health is when you feel you are struggling alone’ (Picture: Getty Images/Westend61)

Georgina’s fellow Counselling Directory member, Miranda Hume-Christophers, has her own recommendations to add to that, saying: ‘There are many organisations that offer support through listening such as The Samaritans (call 116 123), Shout (text 85258) and charities such as Mind, Relate (relationships) and Age Concern who can provide support and advice.

In addition, others such as Citizens Advice, can provide practical information and advice on issues such as benefits, debt, employment and housing.

‘It can be worth seeing if there are any services available via your local health centre.

‘There also may be services available through community groups such as faith groups, local charities and organisations, and support groups. If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, then accessing some of these or meeting up with others who may be in a similar position can be really good.’

There’s also content out there designed to help people through mental health difficulties, and to not feel so alone in what they’re going through.

‘There are some really good resources available, such as podcasts which can help you to not feel alone by hearing others’ stories and strategies,’ says Miranda.

‘For example, Mind has one presented by Heart FM DJ Matt Wilkinson. There’s also Owning It: The Podcast with Caroline Foran (on living with Anxiety), Esther Perel’s podcast on relationships called Where Should We Begin, and the Man up! Podcast that talks about men’s mental health themes and is useful for all, regardless of gender. 

‘If you like reading, there are many self-help books on every aspect of mental health that you could access.’

Practice self-care

Even though we’ve all heard this so many times already, it remains the case – self-care is important, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Georgina says: ‘Practising self-care is key – good sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise, spending time with people you love etc, are all ways in which to improve our overall mental health. 

‘It’s like keeping a car on the road, if we keep air in the tyres, oil in the engine and the windows clean, we can go further distances.’

Reach out to loved ones (Picture: Getty Images)

Jason Butler, a financial wellbeing expert, says: ‘There is no easy answer to this, but even if your house is cold, it’s important to take regular exercise because this helps lift your mood and also to regulate your metabolism. In addition to staying warm, eating well is important.

‘I highly recommend meditating and practising mindfullness each day. This costs nothing, and allows you to reduce the chatter in your head and to feel a deeper connection with yourself. I would highly recommend using JAAQ, a new mental health platform that gives people free access to expert advice. It is a great tool for accessing tips.’

Reach out to people

Even though fear is a perfectly natural reaction to this cost-of-living crisis, it’s not going to be functional when it comes to coping with or finding your solution to it.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott explains how we still have the same mental and physical responses to fear as early humans.

Noel explains: ‘The options we will choose from are:

  • ‘Fight – become angry/aggressive/assault/blame someone else etc.
  • ‘Flight – hide/avoid/ignore, freeze – become immobile/unable to think/unable to take positive action/hopeless

‘These won’t be useful in taking any proactive measures that might be available. It will also make you difficult to be around, therefore reducing your emotional support.

‘Instead, it’s best to move into flocking or herd responses. Our social nature is ultimately what has made us the apex species on earth – it’s our superpower.’



Jason’s money management tips

‘The government has a website that sets out all the financial support on offer: gov.uk/cost-of-living.
Which? the Consumer Association, has a great set of articles and tools on coping with the cost of living squeeze, which will be tailored based on answers to a few basic questions: which.co.uk/topic/cost-of-living

‘Learn to be a smart spender (the term budgeting is unappealing to most people) by a) taking time to get the truth about what you are spending and what you have coming in (most people don’t have a true picture of their cashflow); b) deciding where you want your money to go each month BEFORE you get paid; c) ensuring you are getting all the financial help you are entitled to (use entitledto.co.uk/ to check what you should be getting); d) contacting your local council to find out what financial help they have available; e) seeking help and advice from one of the money charities such as Citizens Advice Bureau, StepChange or Turn2Us.’

So, don’t shut yourself off from others.

Noel adds: ‘What will help is help-seeking behaviour and social flocking/herding – reach out to people. Men in particular need to listen to this as suicide rates increase dramatically during periods of economic crisis and periods of increased unemployment, and men make up 75% of suicides.

‘Isolating during these times can be more deadly than high bills.’

Jason agrees that isolating yourself isn’t the way to handle this, adding: ‘Remember that most people are feeling the strain financially, so you aren’t alone.’

More than just being with people, Georgina also recommends opening up to the people in your life about what you’re going through.

‘Share with people you trust about how you feel,’ she adds, ‘tell managers, teachers, colleagues, family members, and partners if you are struggling. 

‘Pick someone you trust to be supportive and a good listener.’

‘One of the hardest things with mental health is when you feel you are struggling alone,’ says Miranda.

‘If you’re having trouble with your mental health, reaching out to someone else can help to process thoughts, share feelings and concerns and help to overcome the sense of feeling alone – this might be sharing with a family member, friend or reaching for outside help.’

Do you have a story to share?

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