Poverty is at the heart of mental health crisis | Letters

Links between the UK’s growing wealth gap and an increase in mental health problems are explored by Dr Maureen Tilford and the Rev Paul Nicolson

We read that there has been a massive increase in calls to the Metropolitan police involving mental health problems, with as many as one every five minutes Report, 29 August). Insp Brown from the College of Police attributes this to cuts in mental health services and of course this will have a clearly adverse effect, but what is the source of all this distress?

As far back as 1963, research by Langer and Michael found that psychiatric conditions not only occur at higher rates in the poorest areas, but also cluster together, usually in disintegrating inner-city communities. Money is not a guarantor of mental health, nor does its absence necessarily lead to mental illness. However, it is generally conceded that poverty can be both a determinant and a consequence of poor mental health.

More recently, the epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson found that poverty and social inequality have direct and indirect effects on the social, mental and physical wellbeing of an individual. It is clear that poverty and inequality are closely linked and that income inequality produces psychosocial stress.

The wealth gap in the UK is greater than at any time since the first world war and continues to grow. Unless this is addressed at a most senior level in government, the demand on the police will continue, not to mention the suffering of all those callers. This cannot be viewed as a purely health service issue. Allowing the wealth gap to spiral out of control is having serious adverse effects on the UK population on many levels.
Dr Maureen Tilford

• Your very well informed piece about the continuing mental health crisis in the UK (We need action to address the mental health crisis, not more empty words, 31 August) draws attention to the link with economic circumstances.

Prevention of mental illness, and hunger created by low income and debt, requires an increase in taxation and unemployment benefits which many of us would be willing to accept. Central government is making households destitute by shredding unemployment incomes and then stopping them with the benefit sanction, allowing zero-hours contracts and by rolling out the universal credit. Local government then taxes the benefits and sends in the bailiffs to collect the inevitable arrears, adding court costs and huge bailiffs’ fees.

It takes a very rare degree of resilience for mental health to withstand three powerful government departments shelling out threats of bailiffs, prison, eviction and homelessness against a single debtor, who is often struggling to put food on the table for dependent relatives. As Psychologists Against Austerity have reported, such abuses of power are creating humiliation, shame, fear, distrust, instability, insecurity, isolation and loneliness in trapped and powerless citizens.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

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