Breaking the link between mental health problems and financial difficulties

17 May 2016 By Helen Undy, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

Spring 2016 saw the launch of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, backed by Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis. As part of Mental Health Awareness week we asked Helen Undy from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute to tell us about how they intend to help improve the lives of those with mental health conditions and financial problems.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, so it feels fitting that it’s also my first day at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. It’s an exciting time to start, with so much focus on mental health in the press and on social media; it’s encouraging to see the stigma being gradually chipped away.

However, despite recent progress, there’s still a long way to go before talking about our mental health becomes run of the mill, and unfortunately the same is true for talking about financial problems. So when financial and mental health issues combine, not only are the problems multiplied, but so is the stigma.

The figures really speak for themselves:

  • You’re four to six times more likely to have a debt crisis if you are also living with mental health problems
  • Half of those seeking debt help also have mental health problems
  • Dealing with financial difficulties has been shown to increase treatment times for clinical depression

Most mental health conditions fluctuate; people will have periods, sometimes years at a time, when they are healthy and able to manage their finances without incident. But there will be periods of time when they are unwell, during which managing money can be challenging, and it is possible to get into significant financial difficulties.

For some people this can be the result of high spending or taking out credit during a manic phase caused by bipolar disorder. For others it could be depression leaving them unable to get out of bed, never mind open the post and pay the bills. Or for many it’s the struggle to adapt to changes in income as a result of redundancy, benefit changes or the additional costs of living with a serious health condition.

Just as every individual is different, there is no one-size-fits all solution. But there are things that can be done, and that’s why the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has been set up.

We’re fortunate to be backed by a generous donation from Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert, who’s determined to use his expertise to help break the link between mental health problems and financial difficulties. We will conduct research to better understand the issues, working with those with personal experience of mental health problems and financial difficulties, the financial services industry, policy-makers, advice agencies and other experts – like Toynbee Hall.

Ultimately, we want to use this knowledge to make things better. We want to develop new ways of regulating, monitoring, and designing financial services products to help protect people from financial difficulty and empower them to manage their money – which is good for our mental health as well as our bank balance.

We know we’ve got our work cut out, but we also know how needed this is – since we launched we have been inundated with people sharing their own experiences of mental health problems and financial difficulties. It’s early days, but I hope that by Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 we’ll be able to look back and see the progress we’ve made.

You can keep up to date with our work and sign-up to our mailing list to find out more at www.moneyandmentalhealth.org.