People with mental illness are being left to fall into a dangerous cycle of money problems and worsening mental health, because they are not being given crucial information on how their condition increases the risk of financial difficulty.

This warning is made in a new report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which looks at how health professionals – as well as public bodies, employers and essential services – can help prevent financial problems associated with mental illness.

The report highlights that people with mental health problems are over three and a half times more likely to be in problem debt, which in turn can compound mental health problems and make it harder to recover. For example, people with depression and problem debt are over four times more likely to still have depression 18 months later, than those with depression who do not have financial difficulty.

The research also shows there is agreement among health professionals and people with mental illness on the need for greater preventative support for money problems -which could both help people avoid financial difficulty and recover more quickly, and free up time for health professionals to focus on clinical outcomes:

  • In a survey of nearly 500 people with mental health problems (2), two thirds (64%) said that they would have recovered more quickly from their mental health problems if they had been helped to manage their money better
  • The majority of people (64%) said that they would have liked to have received this support when they first received a diagnosis or treatment, or when they first asked for help with their mental health
  • In a separate smaller survey of health professionals ranging from GPs to psychiatrists (2), the majority said that their job would be easier if people with mental health problems were supported to manage their money before problems escalated, and that this would reduce demands on their time.

The report highlights that GPs and other primary care professionals have a particularly important opportunity to support people with mental health problems to avoid financial difficulty, as 9 out of 10 people receiving mental health treatment do so through GPs and primary care settings.

However, despite this and the increased risk of financial difficulty that people with mental health problems face, the research suggests that very few people are receiving support from their GP with their financial circumstances. Only 1 in 20 of those surveyed who had been treated by a GP say they were offered help by them to manage their money.

Money and Mental Health is calling on the next government to task GPs and other primary care professionals with improving support to help people with mental health problems avoid financial difficulty.

In particular, the charity says the next government should introduce a ‘Brief Intervention’ for GPs on helping people with mental health problems avoid financial problems. This would be modelled on existing interventions to address smoking and domestic abuse, and would involve GPs and other health professionals providing people with information about the link between mental health problems and financial difficulty, and signposting or referrals to local sources of support.

Helen Undy, Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said “It’s unacceptable that people with mental illness are missing out on the information they need to help them avoid money problems, when the risk of developing these issues is so much higher and so damaging for their prospects of recovery. Health professionals and people with mental health problems agree – we need greater action to prevent these problems because they’re destroying lives.”

“GPs can play a crucial role by taking just a minute to give people information on money problems when they seek help for their mental health. Similar interventions already exist for GPs to address smoking and domestic abuse – it’s time that addressing money problems is treated as a priority too.”

“We know that there are heavy demands on GPs’ time. But we can’t afford to keep missing this critical opportunity to give people the information and advice they need to avoid the devastation that the combination of financial difficulty and mental health problems can cause.”