Price inflation tied to higher mental health service utilization among adults and elderly in England

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In a recent study published in Nature Mental Health, researchers evaluated the relationship between price elevation and psychiatric care in the British population in post-coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic times.

Study: Investigating inflation, living costs and mental health service utilization in post-COVID-19 England. Image Credit: SrideeStudio/Shutterstock.comStudy: Investigating inflation, living costs and mental health service utilization in post-COVID-19 England. Image Credit: SrideeStudio/Shutterstock.com

Background

The United Kingdom's economic recovery from COVID-19 has been gradual, but growing living expenses due to price inflation have severely impacted mental health. Housing instability, restricted transit and food availability, and fuel poverty contribute to this surge.

Children living in poverty are more likely to have negative experiences, which can influence their psychiatric well-being. The government has responded with financial incentives, although there is limited factual evidence associating psychiatric issues with growing living expenses.

About the study

In the present study, researchers investigated the relationship between inflation and psychiatric service utilization in post-pandemic times by Britishers.

The researchers analyzed the National Health Service (NHS) and Office for National Statistics (ONS) data to investigate the relationship between price elevation, measured by the official Consumer Prices Index, including owner occupiers housing costs (CPIH), and the proportion of individuals using psychiatric care services across ages.  

The team assessed mental health status by determining the percentage of individuals who used mental health services, an official NHS index. Individuals are considered in touch if they have an open referral to secondary mental health, learning difficulties, or autism services with values indicated in thousands.

They deemed the unemployment rate a confounder due to its possible impact on psychiatric well-being. The pre-pandemic era included data from August 2016 to February 2020, whereas the post-pandemic period began in April 2022. 

The researchers utilized linear regression to investigate the effect of price inflation on mental health service contact and price index movements. They adjusted for variables such as the unemployment rate and period (pre- and post-pandemic).

They included delays in price inflation to account for any lagged impacts on mental health at the population level. The ideal lag length was determined using the Akaike information criteria. The study also examined the relationship between price index, prospective lagged form, and period.

Results

The findings revealed that, compared to the pre-pandemic period (August 2016 to February 2020), significant associations emerged between specific living expenses (including costs for food and non-alcoholic beverages, housing, water, fuels, and miscellaneous services and goods) and psychiatric care service utilization after COVID-19.

The team observed the association primarily among individuals aged 19 to 64 years and the elderly population aged 65 years and older.

In the post-pandemic period, various pricing indexes and the proportion of individuals in touch with psychiatric care services showed a significant upward trend. In post-pandemic times, price inflation showed no significant impact on pediatric interaction with psychiatric care services compared to pre-pandemic levels.

After the pandemic, a 1.0% elevation in CPIH values increased the proportion of individuals contacting psychiatric care services by 56 thousand, compared to pre-COVID-19.

Following COVID-19, every percent rise in the non-alcoholic drinks and foods, housing, water, fuels, and miscellaneous services and goods indices was related to 8.9, 35.9, and 24 thousand increases in the percentage of individuals contacting psychiatric care services, respectively.

In contrast, in the post-pandemic period, every percent rise in the indices for alcoholic drinks, narcotics, and tobacco and hotels, cafés, and restaurants categories was related to 42 and 51 thousand declines in the proportion of individuals contacting psychiatric care services, respectively.

A 1.0% rise in the 'cafés, hotels, and restaurants' index showed a one-month lag, resulting in a drop of 41 thousand individuals seeking mental health care.

In the post-COVID-19 period, a 1.0% rise in CPIH, non-alcoholic beverages and foods, and miscellaneous services and goods indices resulted in a 26.3%, 3.63%, and 7.3% increase in the proportion of elderly individuals seeking mental health care, respectively, compared to the pre-pandemic period.

Conclusions

Based on the study findings, price inflation in England has increased the percentage of individuals seeking psychiatric health care, notably among adults.

The team observed the findings for specific indices like food, housing, water, energy, and other commodities and services.

However, there was a negative correlation between alcoholic drinks, tobacco, drugs, and hotels, cafés, and restaurants with the proportion of individuals seeking psychiatric care.

The findings provide important policy insights by clearly showing which living expenditures are robustly associated with mental care service usage in England during the epidemic.

By explaining the links between specific pricing indices and mental health treatment consumption across different age groups, the study gives significant insight for developing targeted social and economic strategies to address the probable causes of mental health problems.

Journal reference:
Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Written by

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is an oral and maxillofacial physician and radiologist based in Pune, India. Her academic background is in Oral Medicine and Radiology. She has extensive experience in research and evidence-based clinical-radiological diagnosis and management of oral lesions and conditions and associated maxillofacial disorders.

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