The COVID-19 Pandemic, Financial Inequality and Mental Health Scotland

We all can experience mental health problems, whatever our background or walk of life. But the risk of experiencing mental ill-health is not equally distributed across our society. Those who face the greatest disadvantages in life also face the greatest risk to their mental health.

The distribution of infections and deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown and associated measures, and the longer-term socioeconomic impact are likely to reproduce and intensify the financial inequalities that contribute towards the increased prevalence and unequal distribution of mental ill-health.

This briefing discusses the mental health effects of these financial inequalities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It draws evidence from the “Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic” research – a UK-wide, long-term study of how the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health. The study is led by the Mental Health Foundation, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, Swansea University, the University of Strathclyde and Queen’s University Belfast.

Since mid-March 2020, the project has undertaken regular, repeated surveys of more than 4,000 adults who are representative of people aged 18+ and living in the UK. The surveys are conducted online by YouGov. They shed light on people’s emotional responses to the pandemic, the key social drivers of distress, coping mechanisms and suicidal thoughts. A diverse Citizens’ Jury is contributing qualitative information, personal insights and comments on the data generated by the study. Ethical approval has been obtained from the Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee.

To contextualise our findings, first we review existing knowledge on the links between financial inequality, employment and mental health; then we review what official figures are telling us about the financial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This review provides the backdrop to our own survey data and Citizen’s Jury findings. We conclude with recommendations to UK central and national governments.