Depression and anxiety haunt the people who use our food bank. We need a safety net to support people in poverty, not penalise them.
Two-thirds of British adults have experienced mental health problems at some point in their lives, according to the Mental Health Foundation. For people forced to use a food bank like ours, the figures are even higher.
It’s no wonder. The NHS says depression can be caused by “an upsetting or stressful life event, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy and job or money worries”. People who use food banks face many of these – often at the same time.
A blister from new work boots leads to an ulcer; you’re struggling to walk round the building site and the foreman lays you off with no warning and no sick pay. It takes weeks to access sickness benefits. Your marriage breaks down and you’re suddenly homeless. This is just one story, of a man in his 60s facing an onslaught most of us would struggle to withstand.
Our research highlights that poor mental health is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Of 20 food bank users we interviewed during one week, 18 said they had experienced poor mental health – stress, anxiety and depression – in the last 12 months. Six said they had considered or attempted suicide in the past year.
Philip*, for instance, had just left hospital when he came to us, after being sectioned six weeks earlier when he attempted to take his own life. Sue*, a grandmother in her 50s, told us, “I’ve had suicidal thoughts. Sometimes I do feel it is the answer. I constantly think of different ways, you know – that can take up a whole evening”.
This is the reality of food banks across the country. Research with referrers to our food bank (such as GPs, mental health services, schools and children’s centres) highlights the same issue; nine out of 10 cite seeing poorer mental health as a direct consequence of poverty.