Inflation and Mental Health
Inflation is at record-breaking, all-time highs across the world. Currently, money is very tight for most people, as the prices of many basic necessities like petrol and groceries are soaring rapidly for a variety of reasons. Inflation is defined in economics as a “general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money.” In May 2022, Pakistan’s inflation rate rose to 13.8% as a combined result of increased prices of goods and other necessities, as well as a weaker currency value. This rate was the highest it had been in Pakistan in the past two years. According to official national data, the cost of transportation rose by 31.8% specifically while the price of food increased by 17.3%.
The Impact of Economics:
Additionally, according to statistics from the ministries of Justice, Law, and Human Rights in cities Quetta, Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar, about 50% of suicides occurring are accounted for by poverty and financial hardships. In Pakistan, men are seen to commit suicide more than women, likely because they are often the sole earners and providers for their households. Additionally, research shows that more than 90% of people affected by mental illness in Pakistan don’t receive required treatment, mostly due to an endemic lack of mental health professionals in the country.
Inflation combined with a high unemployment rate and stagnant salaries, creates financial crises which have a detrimental impact on mental health and wellbeing, as it elevates both short- and long-term feelings of stress, panic, anxiety, and frustration. Overtime, this works to deteriorate the mind and body and cause negative symptoms such as consistent low mood, irritability, and loss of appetite.
Furthermore, the inflation plaguing many countries is severely exacerbating situations of poverty for vulnerable families already facing financial difficulties in normal circumstances. Although economic issues such as inflation can concern people from all types of socioeconomic backgrounds, those in the lower-income group are most likely to face the brunt of the circumstance. For people with already low wages and living standards, managing the cost of living can become tough to impossible when salaries are not increased to match the soaring prices of commodities and services like petrol, groceries, and rent. This can increase and exacerbate economic disparities in the nation, which is already a prominent concern.
This inequality is in addition to the financial strain caused and being caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Several individuals across the country have reported being let go of their jobs or having a decrease in their salaries or work hours which has resulted in a downgrading of their financial circumstances.
The various factors at play in this situation are coming together to cause a direct and proportionate decline in the mental wellbeing of the general population. Reduced buying power and affordability causes both feelings of immediate and short-term panic, as well as sustained stress and anxiety, which is extremely harmful to the mind and body. Mental illness also significantly increases healthcare spending amounts for most people and creates a high burden both individually and societally due to its high tendency to coexist with other illnesses and conditions such as chronic stress and heart disease.
Financial difficulties can also put strain on personal relationships. To illustrate, several studies have showed that a rise in the price of commodities such as gasoline is directly associated with an increase in divorce rates.
In some extreme and unfortunate cases, difficult financial circumstances can cause people to go over the edge and take drastic measures to reduce or eliminate their tough situation. An example of this is that of Faheem Mughal who committed suicide in Karachi in late October 2021, leaving behind a wife and six children. Mughal lost his job as a journalist during the height of the pandemic and turned to driving a rickshaw to provide for his family. However, after some time of being unable to make ends meet and worried from the increased economic burden from inflation and bank loans, etc. Mughal took his own life out of despair, shocking the public and making painfully aware the need for awareness and support regarding mental health and wellbeing.
The first step to supporting yourself and getting the help you need to improve your mental wellbeing is to recognize you have a problem. There are many telling signs and symptoms of declining mental health due to economic troubles. Here are some common examples:
- Consistent worrying
- Trouble concentrating
- Lack of interest in activities once found pleasurable
- Consistent low mood
- Frequent crying
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Avoiding social interactions
- Increased smoking and/or drinking
- Displays of anger or aggression
Global and societal phenomenon like inflation is everchanging and entirely out of our individual control; understanding and accepting this to be true is the most important first step in taking care of yourself and improving mental wellbeing. As the famous saying goes, uncertainty is the only certainty there is. This fact often causes stress, depression, and anxiety, however, we have to know that economic cycles in general are just that -- cyclical. This means that they too will pass overtime, after they have run their due course, and meanwhile, we need to do the best we can to take care of ourselves and mitigate any potentially negative impacts. Let’s go through some tips that can help keep you secure and well.
Financially Savvy Tips
Firstly: budgeting. Inflation, stagnant wages and a high unemployment rate means it is very important to not be consistently overspending. A good idea would be to create a monthly budget that is sufficient to meet your needs which is now more expensive than previously so. To do this, you may need to cut out certain expenditures that you previously engaged in, including dining out, travel, and/or entertainment.
Secondly, focus on getting the support that you need as you require it, and avoid any delays. Although there is a significant shortage of mental health professionals in the country currently, it is still possible to get help, so please do not hesitate to reach out to your local physician who can then refer you further to any professional support you need such as helplines or counselling.
Thirdly, engage in positive and productive activities that uplift your mood and release happy hormones in your brain. These are up to personal discretion and preference; however, some common examples include:
- Listening to music
- Spending quality time with family and friends
- Engaging in physical exercise such as jogging, dancing, playing team sports
- Making art
- Going out in nature
- Getting some extra sleep
- Journalling, etc.
FAQs about Inflation and mental health
Does inflation lead to depression?
Inflation can lead to depression as its effects (ex. stagnant salaries, high unemployment rate) creates financial and personal crises that can decrease mental health and lead to depression and other conditions.
How does economy affect mental health?
Economic phenomenon, particularly inflation can have a detrimental impact on mental health and wellbeing as it elevates both short- and long-term feelings of stress, panic, anxiety, and frustration.
How does inflation affect people?
Inflation can lead to negative emotions and situations, and over time, these can build up and work to deteriorate the mind and body and cause negative symptoms such as consistent low mood, irritability, and loss of appetite.
How does inflation effect people's standards of living?
Inflation can leave many families vulnerable to economic issues due to low wages, high cost of commodities and services, thus lowering their standard of living. It can also increase disparities communities by exacerbate situations of poverty for communities already facing significant financial difficulties.
To conclude, inflation rates across the world are higher than they have been in decade, and Pakistan is a country especially affected by and vulnerable to these fluctuations. To stay safe and well during these tumultuous times, it is important to be aware and mindful of the signs and symptoms of declining mental health, take precautions and measures to secure your peace of mind, and seek professional help when and as necessary