It doesn't stop. Every minute of every day, I'm trying to think of how to cope with too many things. How much will it cost to turn on the heat for a couple of hours? Can I make it up by going to the food bank? But I can walk to the store whereas getting to the food bank means two hours round trip and two tube tickets. Not to mention waiting in line for who knows how long in this bitter cold. How long can I avoid calls from the utility company? How long until my phone needs recharging again? How long till spring? I'm not sure I can make it.
Long before mould causes asthma, cool indoor temperatures make arthritic pain more severe or prolonged cold puts the elderly at risk of heart attack, fuel poverty can suck people into a downward spiral of worry, stress, anxiety and, yes, despair.
For many, the overriding issue is feeling completely out of control – which may be completely realistic. They can't control the weather, that's for sure. But more to the point, many live in low-quality rental dwellings that they don't have the right to alter and may not even be able to set heating devices. So they don't know how much energy they are consuming or how much the bill will be at the end of the month. Add to that the stress of knowing that one's income is simply not enough to meet expenses from month to month. Uncertainty breed anxiety.
It is well-documented that fuel poverty erodes mental health and well-being, stripping people of their sense of self-worth and of their desire to engage with others. Over time, poor mental health coupled with the health risks of being physically cold, can trigger or exacerbate the range of conditions highlighted in other posts.
Equally proven is that regaining a sense of control can mark a turning point back towards mental well-being. This is a key reason governments and social agencies go to such great lengths to encourage fuel poor people to seek help: learning new ways to reduce household energy use and knowing that it is possible to negotiate solutions with utility companies are hugely important. Many people are ready to provide a wide range of services to those who take the courageous first step of asking for help.