About half of people in debt have experienced a recent mental health problem, according to a new poll
“For many years, therapists, mental health nurses and social workers have told us they often spend substantial, valuable clinical time helping people with their finances. It makes more sense to leave debt help professionals to do that and take some pressure off the NHS, letting clinicians focus on helping people get better.” Martin Lewis, founder, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
As many as three million people in the UK who are behind with at least one bill have experienced a mental health problem in the past two years, a YouGov survey has found.
The research, carried out in June on behalf of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, a charity, involved polling 2,047 people about their experiences of money and mental health during the cost of living crisis. It found that 12% of respondents were behind with at least one bill payment, such as energy, rent or credit cards, and that about half of these had experienced a mental health problem. This is the equivalent of three million people nationally who are both behind on a payment and have experienced mental health difficulties in the last two years.
The figures suggest that people who have had mental health problems in the past two years are three times more likely to be behind on at least one significant bill, the report found, with 60% saying they felt unable to cope due to rising costs. Yet only 9% have received money or debt advice since the cost-of-living crisis started.
The survey also found that people with mental health problems were eight times more likely to say they have had suicidal thoughts or feelings in the last 16 months as a result of rising costs than people without mental health problems.
The charity has calculated that the government could save more than £140m a year by linking up support for mental health with support for debt problems. It is asking the government and NHS England to provide practical financial advice alongside the NHS’s Talking Therapies programme.
To do this, it says that NHS England should introduce a money worries screening question as part of the NHS Talking Therapies’ initial assessment to identify those in need and link them up with appropriate services. It also recommends that NHS England and the Money and Pensions Service should work together to make sure referrals from health services to money advice services are streamlined and offered in face-to-face services, over the phone and online.
It argues that this would double recovery rates for people who are struggling with both debt and depression, helping an extra 27,000 people recover from mental health problems each year and reducing waiting times for mental health services. Introducing such a change would save £39m by reducing demand for health and social care services and generate £105m in wider economic benefits.
Martin Lewis, who founded the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “The cost-of-living crisis shows no sign of abating, and even if it does, the fallout will last years. Financial problems and mental health issues are locked together, it’s about time treatments were linked too.
“For many years, therapists, mental health nurses and social workers have told us they often spend substantial, valuable clinical time helping people with their finances. It makes more sense to leave debt help professionals to do that and take some pressure off the NHS, letting clinicians focus on helping people get better.”
Dr Subodh Dave, dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the Guardian that psychiatrists were “intensely aware” of the significant impact of the cost-of-living crisis on patients’ mental health: “Debt may have disastrous consequences for individuals and their families. Clinicians can play their part by enquiring about their patients’ financial situations and how this might be affecting their mental health. Collaboration is needed from a range of other bodies including financial advice services and social care organisations.”
Mental illness rarely exists in isolation, so it is not surprising to find a connection between money problems and mental health problems. Although the research shows a correlation rather than causation, it seems likely that helping people manage their finances and find a way out of debt would also improve their mental health. Martin Lewis’s recommendation that people who self-refer to NHS Talking Therapies should be screened for money worries, and referred to money advisers if they are struggling, makes excellent sense. It means that people who need financial advice and support will receive it, and help reduce the demand on the NHS’s mental health services.