New research from Money and Mental Health Policy has highlighted the urgent need for more joined-up mental health and debt support during the cost of living crisis.
The report shows 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 key bill (19% compared to 6% of people who have never had mental health problems).
60% of people with recent mental health problems say they have felt unable to cope due to rising costs, yet only 9% have received money or debt advice since the start of the cost of living crisis — with the vast majority missing out on this critical support .
The charity is calling on the government and NHS England to provide money advice alongside NHS Talking Therapies — the flagship programme for treating mild to moderate mental health problems, which treats over 1.2 million people each year. Money and Mental Health’s analysis suggests that doing so would dramatically improve recovery rates, reduce waiting times for mental health services, and generate significant savings for the public purse.
The charity says that Everyone receiving support from NHS Talking Therapies should be asked about their financial situation when they are initially assessed for the programme. That currently does not happen, which is a huge missed opportunity for professionals working in Talking Therapies services to routinely identify those struggling with financial issues and to help them access money advice. Research suggests that people who have depression and financial difficulties are 4.2 times more likely to be still experiencing depression 18 months later, compared to those who have depression but no financial issues — underlining the urgency of helping people deal with financial problems when they first get treatment for their mental health.
Money advice services should be located in the same site as NHS Talking Therapies services, to make it much easier for people with mental health problems to directly access money advice. Common symptoms of mental health problems can make everyday tasks like getting out of bed or feeding and washing yourself extremely difficult, and so managing multiple appointments at different places can feel like an impossible task. Co-locating both support services would remove those barriers and make money advice much more accessible for people who are struggling with everyday tasks due to their mental health.
Where co-location isn’t possible — or where people prefer telephone or online advice — professionals working in Talking Therapies services should actively book appointments on behalf of people. That would remove another barrier to money advice for people experiencing mental health problems, who may struggle to book appointments themselves.
Money and Mental Health’s analysis suggests that these small reforms could transform outcomes for people experiencing depression and debt. The research suggests that providing people with money advice when they are being supported by the NHS Talking Therapies programme could double recovery rates for people struggling with depression and debt, from 24% to 51%.
It would also increase the recovery rate for people with anxiety and debt from 41% to 53%. In total, this would help an additional 27,000 people experiencing depression or anxiety to recover each year.
Money and Mental Health’s analysis also suggests that these reforms could generate annual savings to the public purse of £144m in England alone — even when the costs of providing additional debt advice support are factored in.
This includes potential healthcare savings of £39m made through reducing demand for health and social care services, which could be redirected into reducing waiting times for vital mental health treatment.
It also includes wider economic benefits and boosts to workplace productivity estimated at £105m in England, resulting from more people recovering from mental health problems.
Martin Lewis, Chair and Founder of 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. We’d urge the government and NHS to take swift action to ensure those struggling with their mental health and finances get the support they need – and cut costs for the state at the same time.”
“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.”
“This isn’t about big changes, it’s a case of ensuring that when someone goes for support for their mental health, they can walk down the corridor and get money advice too. Or if they’d prefer to get money advice online or via telephone, removing the stress of having to book appointments. That would make a huge difference in helping people to deal with mental health and debt issues, and to get on with their lives. And when you throw in the potential economic gains of helping more people with mental health problems back into work, these reforms are a no-brainer.”