CALLS have been made for ministers to bring in a new mental health strategy after a study found a "worrying" six in ten Scots experienced anxiety over the cost of living crisis.

The Mental Health Foundation is demanding action over the personal distress timebomb - which has soared in the wake of the pandemic.

It comes as calls to Citizens Advice Scotland for help in providing crisis support soared by over 40 per cent in a year.

In 2022/23 it provided 118,384 pieces of crisis advice, up from 84,103 in 2021/22. This covered advice such as crisis grants from the Scottish Welfare Fund, fuel vouchers, and other charitable support.

The foundation said it was raising the alarm about the impact of anxiety across Scotland as existing support for people who are struggling does not go far enough.

"The cost-of-living crisis has undoubtedly led to increased levels of material deprivation and financial strain in the UK population, which is putting people’s mental health at risk," said the foundation. "Our research provides new evidence of the extent that financial strain is negatively affecting people’s mental health, specifically their experience of anxiety.

"Worryingly, some of the behaviours that are protective of mental health - for example, getting enough sleep and maintaining connection with family and friends - are the very behaviours that people may be reducing to cope with the increased cost of living.

"We must do more to ensure that mental health is recognised with the same urgency as physical health. There is huge demand for mental health services and people are having to wait for months or years for treatment, as their condition worsens. It’s vital that people can access the right support when they need it."

Some 58% of 1000 Scots surveyed by Opinium between March 24 and April 3, 2023 said they were facing anxiety that stopped them from doing what they would like to or needed to do in their daily lives.

When people were asked what the jost common reported cause of anxiety was in the previous two weeks, some 33% said being able to afford to pay bills, while 42% said that financial security would help prevent anxiety.

Some seven in ten people (70%) had felt anxious at least sometimes in the two weeks before they were asked while more than a quarter (27%) of those with feelings of anxiety felt anxious to the extent that it stopped them from doing what they would like or need to do. One in five people (21%) felt anxious most or all of the time.

And one in three people (30%) with feelings of anxiety say they are not coping well with those feelings. The foundation says this is "worrying" because chronic or long term anxiety is associated with a higher risk of physical or mental health problems.

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Despite anxiety being so common, stigma and shame play a part in how people deal with it, the foundation said.

HeraldScotland: ASIST aims to teach practical skills to help someone during a mental health crisis. File image: PA Archive/Dave Thompson.

More than four in ten adults in Scotland (44%) with feelings of anxiety keep it a secret.

The foundation said that this suggests that although there has been progress in discussing mental health more openly in recent years, significant numbers of people are still not comfortable talking about their own experiences.

They are now calling for government action to improve financial support schemes that alleviate financial stress for people experiencing poverty.

It is calling for the development and delivery of a 10-year mental health strategy in Scotland that includes a focus on prevention and action across all government departments.

They say this must include ensuring social security benefits that cover life’s essentials, so people are not forced to skip meals or forego heating their home, and debt-relief programmes.

They said the move should be wide-ranging with moves to create safer neighbourhoods and well-resourced adult social care and children’s services while providing income and housing support supports to reduce financial stress.

Julie Cameron, associate director at Mental Health Foundation in Scotland, said: “Across Scotland more than one million adults are experiencing levels of anxiety that is stopping them from living their lives, with many not speaking out and struggling to cope. More can and must be done to protect our mental health. A big focus of our Mental Health Awareness Week is to encourage people to share their experiences on anxiety and increase understanding of the steps we can take. However, the scale of the problems requires change that goes beyond individual action.

“We urge the Scottish Government to publish a cross-departmental mental health strategy for the next 10 years with a delivery plan that contains commitments on mental health from all departments including those that cover social security, housing, communities, education, and criminal justice."

Single parents were more likely to get anxiety, with 92% saying they had experienced issues in the previous two weeks. Some 40% of 25 to 34-year-olds and 34% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 30% of 35 to 49-year-olds said they had suffered anxiety in the previous two weeks that hit what they could do in their daily lives.

The foundation believes that increased academic or job stress and pressures could be a key reason why there is a higher prevalence of anxiety amongst younger people compared to other age groups.

It said in a 'thriving learners' study, those experiencing food insecurity were also experiencing high levels of depression and low levels of wellbeing.

It believes that social media may add to their stress as they compare their experiences to those of others, and feel pressure to present a perfect image online or become a victim of cyberbullying.

Mental wellbeing Minister Maree Todd said the analysis was "an important contribution to a national discussion on mental health and wellbeing.

“Supporting and promoting the mental wellbeing of the population of Scotland is a Scottish Government priority. I know that many people are experiencing stress and anxiety right now, which is why looking after our mental health has never been more important," she said.

“We are supporting and promoting the mental wellbeing of the population of Scotland in several ways, including investing £30 million in community-based support for children, young people, and adults. A range of support is currently available online for those needing mental health help, including Mind to Mind - a website which provides practical resources to support the mental wellbeing of the population of Scotland.

“Our forthcoming mental health and wellbeing strategy will focus on every part of what mental health and wellbeing means. That ranges from addressing the underlying reasons behind poor mental health; helping to create the conditions for people to thrive, challenging the stigma around mental health, and providing specialist help and support for mental illness. The Mental Health Foundation is a key stakeholder and has been working with us to develop the strategy.”