LEADING psychologists have warned against further anti-austerity measures in the next Westminster Parliament, claiming they would increase suicide rates and lead to further mental health problems in Scotland.

Psychologists Against Austerity (Scotland) say that levels of inequality in the UK are "morally repugnant" and financial pressures placed on families could create a "mental health time bomb" for the next generation of children.

Some 54 mental health experts signed the letter, which is published in today's Herald, and points to what it calls well-established links between poverty, social inequality and mental health problems and that suicide rates have risen recently after falling for two decades.

The psychologists said: "We have seen first-hand the devastating effects that reductions to benefits, sanctions over petty issues, and the stresses associated with the ATOS assessment process, can have on our clients, their families and broader communities. This exacerbates existing mental health difficulties for many people and can lead to the development of often serious mental health problems."

The signatories said that austerity erodes communities and unfairly disadvantages the most vulnerable members of society and that greater inequality leads to to more mental health problems while impacting the well-being of children.

The psychologists points out that the UK is ranked as the fourth most unequal nation in terms of income by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and that despite the financial crisis, the richest in Britain have retained their share of income and wealth.

Andrew Gumley, Professor of psychological therapy at the University of Glasgow, who has put his name to the document, said: "Inequality is psychologically toxic.

"The creation of greater disparity of rank, status, power and sense of control are directly linked to feelings of powerlessness, shame, humiliation and entrapment, all of which are closely linked to a range of mental health difficulties including anxiety, depression, psychosis and suicide.

"Growing up in a society when you are exposed - day in, day out - to people who have lots and you have nothing, is not just physically toxic, it's psychologically toxic.

"I was really shocked when the Conservative Party announced last week they would freeze income tax and national insurance, because to remove 65 per cent of their freedom to operate in terms of generating income, can only mean that they're going to save money from the poorest in society by cutting benefits and health services, which directly act to increase inequality and poorer mental health This an example of a policy that is not just about austerity, it's also about increasing inequality."

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: "Rates of depression and other mental health issues were on the rise before the Conservative led coalition took power in 2010. No-one's doubting times have been tough, but 178,000 new jobs have been created in Scotland in the last five years, and that's helping people off benefits and into meaningful work."