Poorer sleep for one in three adults in Northern Ireland as financial strain takes its toll on mental health

Location: Northern Ireland

17th Jan 2023

This content mentions depression and anxiety, which some people may find triggering.

Today (17 January 2023), we have published our report, Mental health and the cost-of-living crisis report: another pandemic in the making?, which outlines our recommendations for the government. We are concerned about mental health risk ‘red flags’ as our poll reveals many people are not able to do the things needed for good mental health:

  • almost one in three (27%) adults in Northern Ireland reported poorer quality sleep
  • almost one-quarter of people (22%) had met with family friends less often
  • one in eight (12%) had exercised less often

Data we have released today in Northern Ireland reveals mental health risk ‘red flags’ with people less able to do the things that support good mental health and well-being due to their financial situation. We are calling for government action to avoid widespread mental health problems in the fallout from the cost-of-living crisis.

A poll we commissioned of 1498 adults in Northern Ireland found that concern about finances negatively affected people’s quality of life, with people reporting poor sleep and behaviour changes detrimental to good mental health.


of adults in Northern Ireland reported poorer quality sleep

Almost one-quarter

of people are meeting with family and friends less often

One in eight

people are exercising less often

Responses raising the alarm in the survey include that, due to concerns about their financial situation, almost one in three (27%) adults in Northern Ireland had reported poorer quality sleep, and almost one-quarter of people (22%) had met with family and friends less often. One in eight (12%) had exercised less frequently.

Karen Hall, Head of Northern Ireland at the Mental Health Foundation, said:

“On the back of recession, austerity and COVID-19, the current cost-of-living crisis could be a new mental health pandemic in the making. Poverty and financial stress are rising, and the number of people experiencing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression is likely to increase.

“We can see that financial concerns drive people to engage less in healthy behaviours that support good mental health. The reductions in these healthy behaviours are red flags that can indicate more serious mental health problems developing. We need good quality sleep. We need to be able to do things we enjoy. We need exercise. We need to be able to spend time with the people we love. We must do more than survive to have good mental health and well-being; we must thrive.

“While these are individual behaviours, the ability to act on them is very much determined by the circumstances in which we live. We need our governments to do more to alleviate the negative impacts of the cost-of-living crisis and treat it as the public mental health emergency that it is, including increasing funding for community support organisations and ensuring there is financial support for those who need it.”

Today, we have published a position paper outlining evidence-based recommendations for governments across the UK. The clear priority is to ensure financial support schemes are available to all who need them and prevent people from experiencing poverty and financial stress. Income supports announced to date do not go far enough to meet the needs of people on low incomes who continue to have to do without essentials like food and heating. Governments must make sure that everyone has the financial security to prevent mental distress.

We have previously reported that 44% of adults in Northern Ireland felt anxious, 23% were angry or frustrated, and 9% felt hopeless about their financial circumstances.

In the paper, we also recommend requiring all government departments to assess the mental health impact of decisions that address the cost-of-living crisis, ensuring that frontline workers are trained to respond effectively to the mental health effects of financial stress and strain, and ensuring energy companies, essential service providers, and creditors have procedures in place to provide a compassionate response to customers experiencing financial strain.

Karen Hall, Head of Northern Ireland, from the Mental Health Foundation, added:

“We know that our under-funded mental health services are already stretched beyond capacity with people waiting months or years for treatment. We cannot treat our way out of a mental health crisis. We must take action to prevent it, support people to live well, and have good mental health.”


Mental health and the cost-of-living crisis report: another pandemic in the making?

Our report gives an overview of the current and likely effects the cost-of-living crisis has on people’s mental health. We cannot ignore the potentially devastating impact the cost-of-living crisis has on mental health.
Read our report

If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.

Notes to editors

NI polling was carried out by Belfast-based polling and market research company, LucidTalk. The project was conducted online for four days, from 4 to 7 November 2022.

We received 3351 full responses, and a data-auditing process was carried out to ensure all completed poll surveys were genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses and to provide a NI representative sample. This resulted in 1498 responses being considered regarding the final base dataset results. This 1498 sample was balanced and representative of NI opinion within an error of only +/-2.3%.

For further information and interview requests, please [email protected] our press inbox. We have expert staff available for interviews.

About the Mental Health Foundation

  • the Mental Health Foundation has been the home of Mental Health Awareness Week since 2001
  • our vision is for good mental health for all
  • the Mental Health Foundation works to prevent mental health problems
  • we drive change towards a mentally healthy society for all and support communities, families and individuals to lead mentally healthy lives with a particular focus on those at greatest risk of poor mental health
  • the Mental Health Foundation is committed to promoting an anti-racist, inclusive community where we can all be ourselves
  • the Mental Health Foundation relies on voluntary donations to provide evidence-based advice and carry out vital work to prevent poor mental health

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