Half of Irish people were ‘psychologically affected’ by the economic crash

Over half of Irish people reported a decline in their mental health as a result of the economic crash 10 years ago, a new survey suggests.

Out of those who felt their mental health was impacted by the downturn, 17 per cent said it deteriorated “significantly” and 14 per cent said they had thought about suicide as a result.

Forty two per cent of those whose health was affected by the crash reported sleep problems and 28 per cent said they received professional psychological help.

One third said their mental health issues affected their ability to handle their financial problems effectively.

The national survey of 1,000 people was carried out by Amarach Researchand mental health technology company SilverCloud. It was released to mark the tenth anniversary of the 2008 bank bailout.

Dr Derek Richards, who led the research, said “ability turns to inability” when mental health issues are combined with financial problems.

He said it’s a “vicious cycle” where financial issues cause stress and anxiety which in turn prevents the sufferer from addressing their money problems.

“The type of behaviour they should be engaging in, like opening bills and talking to the bank, now becomes overwhelming.”

David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, which assists distressed home-owners, said his organisation ran a similar study a few years ago. It found a significant number of people had tried to kill themselves over mortgage problems.

“Our single biggest daily challenge is people’s mental health,” he said. “We’ve had a number of clients who have taken their own lives.”

He said the issues don’t just affect the person holding the debt. “It impacts on their family’s mental health and their actual physical health and their relationships.”

Mr Hall said the Government, the health service and the banks have not considered the mental health consequences of the crash and its aftermath, although he says a number of bankers and TDs admit it is a major issue.

“I’ve got two people at the moment who have attempted to take their own lives. One is out of hospital, one is still in hospital.”

He said he has to “battle” with the bank to ensure it doesn’t call this person demanding repayment of their debt while they are in hospital following the suicide attempt.

According to the SilverCloud research, 57 per cent of people surveyed also said the financial crisis has made their generation more pessimistic.

Financial institutions should have “emotional support structures” to help vulnerable or distressed clients with financial problems, 66 per cent of respondents said.

Offering mental health supports to customers would benefit not just the customer but also the banks themselves, Dr Richards said. He pointed to research showing that businesses who support their employees health enjoy greater success.

“What we need is for financial institutions to consider the whole person and consider specifically those who get into difficultly.”

He said financial institutions must understand it’s not just their customer’s problem; it’s also their problem if the customer is unable to address their debt due to mental health issues.