Stress Awareness Month
Considering Stress awareness Month, beginning on the April 1st, I want draw people’s attention to the stark reality that this country is currently facing. Think about how we as a nation, especially those who are living on or below the poverty line, are feeling more stressed than ever. As we begin to experience the ripples of not-so-distant war, I cannot help but think that for a lot of families the idea of war is fairly inconsequential, as they are already fighting a losing battle at home.
As I started preparing my 2nd blog as the CEO of Dorset Mind, I came across this statement in the Daily Echo:
“There are people going to bed at 5pm because their homes are so cold”
My initial thought was this is crazy, and this must be FAKE NEWS. Yet as I continued to read on and explore other impact reports, it is evident that this is NOT fake, it’s a reality for many of the people of Dorset. Families across our county are having to make the painful choice between paying the bills versus buying fresh produce, in fact for many your recommended five-a-day is not just a luxury, it’s a fantasy!
As the cost-of-living surges, driven by increasing fuel and energy costs, increased pressure is being put on the mental health and physical wellbeing of families and households across Dorset.
Bridport Food Bank
I was recently part of an event at a Bridport food bank, which I found extremely eye opening for many reasons. Not only did I learn of even more shocking statistics about the reality of the situation; but I began to learn people’s stories of how this situation is affecting their mental health, ranging from feeling embarrassed, to stressed, to absolutely devastated. One woman told me:
“I truly never ever expected to be somewhere like this, it is embarrassing and soul destroying, but I have no choice. I cannot afford fresh fruit and if I need hot water and heating, the fresh fruit will have to go on the wish list.”
Another West Bay business owner shared his disbelief at the length of the queues he was seeing for the Bridport food bank, as he never thought he would witness such a scene. He continued to tell me that:
“We make assumptions of people – this is not just the result of Covid-19, this is everything plus! People really are on the bread line, it’s a killer to a person’s self-esteem and mental health”
The food bank lead confirmed that so many are reaching a ‘crisis point’, a term I initially thought to be hyperbolic.
The impact of Covid-19 combined with these inevitable price increases is a double jeopardy for many. Charities and foodbanks are calling for more support as more residents – some of whom have never had to rely on help – are being pushed to the limit.
At Dorset Mind we know all too well that poverty is a key driver of mental health problems. And poverty is indeed what we are talking about here.
Reports from leading charities echo this by suggest that the number of UK children now growing up in “very deep poverty” has risen to 1.8 million and this figure had increased by 500,000 since 2012.
Jane, another user of the West Bay community food banks told me, it is “degrading” that her children wake up “shivering” as she cannot afford to leave the heating on.
Poverty and Mental Health
As if the challenges of living every day uncertain of whether you can afford adequate food, shelter or warmth are not damaging enough, people who are living in poverty must also contend with unfair labels and perceptions from others, as well as their own minds who may label them as failures. This stigma, and the suggestion that poverty is caused by a personal failing, can negatively impact a person’s confidence and self-esteem, further driving the likelihood of developing a mental health issue.
It is astonishing that in 2022 we are still living in such a vastly unequal society. Mental health problems are not evenly distributed across the entire population. Poverty, inequality, and discrimination place some people at a much higher risk.
For Dorset Mind, our vision which I will keep going back to, is that we will not give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem, especially those at higher risk in Dorset, gets the support and respect, and they deserve.
Our Guest Blogger
Huge thanks to our CEO, Linda O’Sullivan for her honest account of her experience at the west bay food bank. Her blog demonstrates passion about a subject matter that we should all be aware of.
If you are struggling to cope with your mental health in general, please talk to your GP. Dorset Mind offers a service entitled wellbeing in mind. The group offers peer support and helps to reduce stigma by normalizing conversations about mental health. You can also check out our further support for stress and mental health here.