NHS Reset: Steps are being taken to make managing finances easier for people with poor mental health | Claire Herbert

Claire Herbert

NHS Reset is an NHS Confederation campaign to help shape what the health and care system should look like in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

In this blog, part of a series of comment pieces from NHS Confederation members and partners, Claire Herbert writes on the steps being taken to tackle the anticipated increased demand for mental health services post COVID-19, as both people with pre-existing mental health conditions and the general public are impacted by wider social issues including debt and financial insecurity.

Around one in four people experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. Mental health problems and money matters are often strongly interrelated. The pressure of money worries can have an impact on someone’s mental health, just as someone’s mental health can affect their ability to manage their finances.

There is now, rightly, a big cross-sectoral conversation underway on how mental health support, money guidance, debt advice and financial services interrelate and can better support people with mental health problems.

UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing

In January, the Money and Pensions Service launched the ten-year UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing. From financial education for children and young people, through to planning for and taking up retirement, the strategy aims to support everyone to make the best use of their money and pensions.

Mental health is a cross-cutting theme of the strategy, with objectives including:

  • increasing the number of people saving
  • providing better access to debt advice
  • reducing reliance on credit to pay for essentials.

Cross-sectoral mental health steering group

To take forward this theme, the Mental Health and Financial Wellbeing Challenge Group was established in February (pre pandemic). It brings together the banking, debt advice and mental health sectors to collectively develop recommendations to ensure the UK Strategy works well for people with mental health problems.

“Poor mental health can make managing money harder and worrying about money can make mental health worse. Both of these issues are being highlighted by coronavirus, as many people with mental health problems will be facing a double impact of worse mental health and financial insecurity.” Paul Farmer, Mind 

COVID-19 has shone an even stronger spotlight on how money issues and mental health problems can combine to sometimes create a vicious cycle of vulnerability - where one factor exacerbates the other. We recognise that the pandemic and accompanying lockdown has or may yet heighten new and existing financial and mental health worries, and that the symptoms of some of these mental health conditions might make it more challenging to stay on top of personal finances. 

Money guidance for people with mental health problems

There is agreement in the Challenge Group that more can be done within financial services to understand and support people with mental health problems by building on existing work and listening to those with lived experience.

The Money Advice Service makes information available on mental wellbeing and money, while Mental Health UK runs Mental Health & Money Advice, providing free and impartial information, support and guidance for anyone affected by mental health and money issues. 

 “Whether it’s the symptoms of a mental illness or the stress of coping with money problems, Mental Health & Money Advice sees the devastating impact this can have on people. Some lose hope and contemplate suicide. We know from our service that with the right advice, information and support people can recover financially and mentally. Through the Mental Health Challenge Group, we are aiming to ensure people affected by mental health and money issues are considered throughout the UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing.” Sarah Murphy, Mental Health UK

The role of social prescribing

At the same time, within mental health services, money issues are often part of the story when people need support. We are delighted to be working with NHS England as part of the Mental Health and Financial Wellbeing Challenge Group, to explore how the growing network of social prescriber link workers across England can provide initial support where money and health matters coincide. 

“At least 20 per cent of GP visits are from people seeking support, not with a medical concern, but a wider social issue, such as debt, relationships, housing, or loneliness and social isolation. Social Prescribing aims to fix this, providing people with a link to support in their community, based on what matters to them.” James Sanderson, NHS England

Claire Herbert is mental health challenge group and policy lead at Money and Pensions Service. Follow them on Twitter @MoneyPensionsUK 

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