Seminar on debt and mental health – Mental Health Awareness Week

On 13 May 2014 the APPG held a joint meeting with the Mental Health APPG on debt and mental health as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2014.’s Martin Lewis opened by urging lenders not to disenfranchise those with mental health problems. He said borrowers need the option to constrain their credit use during periods of acute symptoms. This includes an automatic card block in response to unusual spending patterns – which a trusted friend could then unlock. 

While Mr Lewis welcomed improved policies from the financial services sector on mental health, he pointed out these are sometimes not filtering through to call centres and branch staff.

Mr Lewis argued banks needed to do more to win people’s trust and prompt disclosure of mental health problems. He said co-branding with trusted partners could help.

Chris Fitch from the Royal College of Psychiatrists said people with debt problems are twice as likely as those without to develop major depression. The more debts a person has, the more likely they will have a mental health problem.

Mr Fitch said cuts to community care and social work have both impacted the quality of support available to those with mental health and debt problems. But creditors have responsibilities too and there should be more training for frontline staff – their regular contact with borrowers makes them well placed to help stabilise individual debt problems.

Mr Fitch revealed GPs typically charge between £25-£150 for providing medical evidence of a mental health problem. This can make it difficult for borrowers to provide evidence to their lender, particularly for people already struggling with financial difficulties. Mr Fitch said both creditors and GPs need to consider how this system could be made fairer.

Chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Jenny Edwards CBE, reported that money worries are now the leading cause of anxiety disorders in the UK. She called on public sector agencies to review the harsh tone of their debt collection communications which are often more aggressive than those in the commercial sector. She explained this often resulted in individuals making damaging financial choices that both cost more and have a more distressing impact in the long run.