The Psychological Impact of Austerity: A Briefing Paper

Article


Mcgrath, L., Griffin, V., Mundy, E., Curno, T., Weerasinghe, D. and Zlotowitz, S. 2016. The Psychological Impact of Austerity: A Briefing Paper. Educational Psychology Research and Practice. 2 (2), p. 46–57. https://doi.org/10.15123/uel.885xw
AuthorsMcgrath, L., Griffin, V., Mundy, E., Curno, T., Weerasinghe, D. and Zlotowitz, S.
Abstract

Executive Summary

Psychologists are often in a position to see the effects that social and economic changes have on people. We also occupy a relatively powerful position as professionals and therefore have an ethical responsibility to speak out about these effects.

Key conclusions

Austerity policies have damaging psychological costs. Mental health problems are being created in the present, and further problems are being stored for the future. We have identified five ‘Austerity Ailments’. These are specific ways in which austerity policies impact on mental health:

1. Humiliation and shame
2. Fear and distrust
3. Instability and insecurity
4. Isolation and loneliness
5. Being trapped and powerless

These experiences have been shown to increase mental health problems. Prolonged humiliation following a severe loss trebles the chance of being diagnosed with clinical depression. Job insecurity is as damaging for mental health as unemployment. Feeling trapped over the long term nearly trebles the chances of being diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Low levels of trust increase the chance of being diagnosed with depression by nearly 50 per cent.

These five ‘ailments’ are indicators of problems in society, of poisonous public policy, weakness of social cohesion and inequalities in power and wealth. We also know what kind of society promotes good health. Key markers are that societies are equal, participatory and cohesive. Some important indicators of a psychologically healthy society are:

1. Agency
2.Security
3. Connection
4. Meaning
5. Trust

Mental health is not just an individual issue. To create resilience and promote wellbeing, we need to look at the entirety of the social and economic conditions in which people live.

Recommendations

Social policy should work towards a more equitable and participatory society, to facilitate individual wellbeing, resilient places and strong communities.
It is crucial that policy makers and service developers consider the psychological impacts of current and future policies.
Creating the conditions for wellbeing and resilience directly helps to prevent distress in the short and long term, both saving resources and reducing suffering.

JournalEducational Psychology Research and Practice
Journal citation2 (2), p. 46–57
ISSN2059-8963
Year2016
PublisherSchool of Psychology, University of East London
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Anyone
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/uel.885xw
Publication dates
OnlineDec 2016
Publication process dates
Deposited14 Sep 2020
Copyright holder© 2016 The Authors
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