New data shows the cost-of-living is still harming Scots’ mental health with a third going into debt to pay essentials

Location: Scotland

11th Dec 2023


of Scottish adults felt anxious about their financial situation in the past month.


Scottish adults (34%) said that in the last 12 months the increased cost of living (paying bills, rent/mortgage, buying food etc) caused them to begin or increase unsecured debt (e.g. credit cards, bank loans, payday lenders, loan from family or friends).


of Scots accumulated debt over £3000 paying essential bills in the last 12 months.

The Mental Health Foundation in Scotland is issuing a stark warning about the mental health impacts of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, with almost one third of Scottish adults (32%) reporting feeling anxious about their financial situation in the last month. 

The charity is today (11 December 2023) publishing new data from a poll of 1000 adults in Scotland carried out by Opinium from 1 - 13 November 2023 which also found that almost one in three (28%) felt stressed and one in ten (10%) felt hopeless about their financial situation in the last month. While these figures have fallen slightly since the Foundation first ran the survey in November 2022, the charity is concerned that one year later, many people are experiencing mental distress due to the financial strain of coping with high living costs.

News is particularly worrying for people on lower incomes as 40% of people on lowest incomes said they were feeling anxious about their personal finances and 36% were stressed.  This is compared to 25% of people on highest incomes feeling anxious and 23% feeling stressed. 

Despite welcome news that prices are rising at a lower rate, everyday living essentials are still prohibitively expensive for many people.  A third of Scottish adults (34%) had relied on unsecured debt to pay essential living costs in the last 12 months. Around one in eight people (12%) had accumulated debt of more than £3000. More than half of those who had taken on this kind of debt (56%) were very or slightly worried about paying it back. 

Looking ahead to the next few months, more than a quarter of Scottish adults (26%) are worried about not being able to pay household bills while almost one in the three (29%) are worried about not being able to heat their homes. One in five (20%) are worried about being not being able to pay their mortgage or rent and a similar proportion (21%) are worried about not being able to afford food.

Dr Shari McDaid, Head of Policy for Scotland at Mental Health Foundation, said: 

"Poverty, financial strain and unmanageable debt are among the most common drivers of poor mental health. In the last two years we have seen too many people struggling to meet basic living costs and they are telling us that the burden of that is causing feelings of anxiety, stress, and hopelessness. When experienced over a long period of time these feelings can lead to more severe mental health problems.

“While we acknowledge the previous efforts of the Scottish and UK governments to assist people with the rising cost-of-living, clearly more needs to be done as for many people in Scotland existing supports are not touching the sides of their need. We call on the Scottish Government to prioritise cost-of-living supports in the budget for 2024 to 2025, including child payment, free school meals, debt relief and Scottish mitigation supports. The Scottish Government needs to introduce a Minimum Income Guarantee to the extent that its powers allow. We also call on the UK Government to increase Universal Credit so that it provides claimants with enough income to purchase the essentials of daily living.

“The Scottish Government can also support debtors’ mental health by ensuring that debt and money advice services are able to provide compassionate, mental health aware services and signpost people to mental health supports. And with a half a million people in Scotland not claiming their full benefits entitlements, it is important to encourage people to get their rightful income supports. 

“Living with financial stress is not good for anyone’s mental health, so the Scottish Government should encourage people to get help if they have money worries.”

Polling was carried out by Opinium from 1 – 13 November 2023 among 1000 adults in Scotland. Figures are weighted to be nationally representative. 

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