One in three Scots are going into debt to pay for food and other essential living costs, a mental health charity has warned.

The Mental Health Foundation is calling for urgent action to address the impact of the cost of living crisis on mental health, as 32 per cent of adults reported feeling anxious about their financial situation in the last month. 

Today, the charity published new data from a poll of 1,000 adults in Scotland carried out by Opinium in November. 

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It also found one in three (28 per cent) felt stressed and one in 10 (10 per cent) felt hopeless about their financial situation in the last month. 

Everyday living essentials are still "prohibitively expensive" for many people, the charity said, as the survey showed 34 per cent of Scottish adults had relied on unsecured debt to pay essential living costs in the last 12 months. 

The Herald: The cost of living crisis is having a serious impact on Scots' mental healthThe cost of living crisis is having a serious impact on Scots' mental health (Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)

Meanwhile, one in eight people (12 per cent) had accumulated debt of more than £3,000. More than half of those who had taken on this kind of debt (56 per cent) were very or slightly worried about paying it back. 

While the figures have fallen slightly since the foundation first ran the survey in November 2022, the charity said it is concerned that many people are experiencing mental distress due to the financial strain of coping with high living costs.

Read more: Call for ScotGov action as 60 per cent hit by anxiety in mental health crisis

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."

The Herald: Almost a quarter of Scots are worried about not being able to afford foodAlmost a quarter of Scots are worried about not being able to afford food (Image: PA)

The survey found people on the lowest incomes were suffering the worst with their mental health, with 40 per cent saying they were feeling anxious about their personal finances and 36 per cent were stressed. This is compared to 25 per cent of people on highest incomes feeling anxious and 23 per cent feeling stressed.

Meanwhile, over the next few months, more than a quarter of Scottish adults (26 per cent) are worried about not being able to pay household bills, while almost one in the three (29 per cent) are worried about not being able to heat their homes.

And one in five Scots (20 per cent) are worried about being not being able to pay their mortgage or rent, while a similar proportion (21 per cent) are worried about not being able to afford food.

Read more: More households turning to debt to pay for essentials, survey shows

Dr McDaid said: “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." 

The Mental Health Foundation is calling on the Scottish Government to prioritise cost of living support in the budget for 2024 and 2025, including child payment, free school meals, debt relief and Scottish mitigation supports.

It is also urging the Scottish Government  to introduce a Minimum Income Guarantee to the extent that its powers allow, and for the UK Government to increase Universal Credit to provides claimants with enough income to purchase the essentials of daily living.

Dr McDaid said: “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. 

Read more: NHS Scotland in crisis: mental health patients 'trapped in hospitals'

“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.”

The Mental Health Foundation has free guidance and information available on its website to help people better understand and protect their mental health. Visit 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government recognises the pressure on household budgets which is why both last year and this, we have allocated almost £3 billion to support policies which tackle poverty and protect people as far as possible during the ongoing cost of living crisis.

“Discussions are continuing to finalise the details of the 2024-25 Scottish Budget. As Ministers have said, this is the most challenging Budget to be delivered since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, following a 'worst case scenario' UK Government Autumn Statement that failed to deliver the investment Scotland needs for its public services,  reflecting the UK’s post-Brexit economic circumstances.

“The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has said the Autumn Statement will be 'more painful' for public services than the previous period of spending cuts in the UK, and this is the difficult context in which Ministers are making budget decisions, as is also the case for the devolved Welsh Government.”