by Sarah-Jayne Dunn, Policy Manager in the CAS Financial Health team.
This article was first published in the Herald on 2 May 2022.
A few weeks ago, we published data from a survey which found that 77% of those in debt or at risk of debt since the beginning of the pandemic admitted that their financial issues exacerbated their mental health issues.
Whilst this is startling, it is nothing new. We in the advice sector have known for years of the devastating link between mental health and money worries. And whilst strides have been taken in some areas to support people who face these dual issues, more can be done to break the link of financial insecurity and poor mental health.
As the cost of living crisis takes its pinch, worsening by the day, many people with mental health issues face inaccessible support when seeking help with their money worries.
Clients who come to the Citizens Advice network for help constantly speak of barriers when trying to deal with their finances, from only finding online processes with no alternative routes to clients missing out on vital support because they aren’t being advised of what is available. By missing out on these opportunities to boost their incomes or deal with their financial worries, people can quickly see their debt situation worsen and further impacting on their mental health.
Yet there are a range of players from Governments, creditors and financial services, to the mental health system itself who can all play their part in breaking this link and ensuring support is available and accessible for those dealing with money and mental health problems.
Whilst many creditors have policies and practices to support someone in vulnerable circumstances, these practices need a prism which allows these policies to be channelled through the specific lens of mental health.
Moreover, creditors including Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland should develop policies which offer appropriate tailored support when dealing with someone who has have mental health and money issues.
One course of action could be to introduce a Mental Health and Money Charter. We envision that the Charter would set out a baseline of principles highlighting the minimum standards someone experiencing mental health and money problems from a creditor, whether public or private, can expect when seeking support with their financial situation. It would bring a clear focus on the connection between mental health and money as well as the potential of setting out practical guidance for firms and public bodies on how to achieve these minimum standards.
Finally, for someone with poor mental wellbeing or mental ill-health, dealing with unaffordable debts or building financial problems can feel unsolvable but accessible, free money advice can be transformative. For this to be effective, money and debt advice should be presented to people with mental health issues during the recovery phase of their mental health journey as a non-clinical intervention.
But this needs to be more than just embedding services, it is equally important that both local and national governments work with advice agencies such as the Citizens Advice network in Scotland to help improve mental health professionals’ understanding of the connection between money and mental health issues.
By linking up the support a person receives for their mental health with support for their financial worries, we can break the link that money and mental health problems can have on the people of Scotland.
Sarah-Jayne Dunn is Citizens Advice Scotland’s Financial Health Policy Manager. This article first appeared in the Herald on Monday 2 May 2022.