Nikki Bond, Senior Research Officer, Money and Mental Health
Putting financial wellbeing at the core of the new 10-year plan for mental health and the national suicide prevention plan
28 July 2022
The Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) call for evidence to inform a new 10-year plan for mental health and wellbeing, and its revised national suicide prevention plan, comes at a critical moment. With soaring living costs having a huge impact on the nation’s mental and financial wellbeing – and the links between financial difficulty and suicide being well-established – an opportunity to inform these plans couldn’t be more timely.
So this month, after surveying over 400 people with experience of mental health problems to hear their views, we submitted our response. We’ve made recommendations for how cross-government departments can tackle the links between money and mental health, and truly improve the nation’s mental health.
Preventing and resolving financial problems to improve mental health
In any given year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem, the symptoms of which can impact our ability to earn and manage money. Our research has shown that people with mental health problems – such as anxiety and depression – receive average annual incomes of £8,400 less than people without those conditions. This contributes to people being three and a half times more likely to be in problem debt and more than twice as likely to have relied on credit or borrowing to cover everyday spending during the pandemic compared to those without mental health problems.
Given the impact of financial difficulty on a person’s ability to recover from mental illness and the prevalence of financial difficulty among people with mental health problems, we have called on the government to:
- Increase funding to income maximisation and money advice services – Low incomes and persistent precarity have a detrimental impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. To address this, in addition to raising benefit rates, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should boost the take-up of benefits, supporting people to maximise their incomes and access the estimated £15 billion in unclaimed entitlements. By directing more funding to income maximisation and money advice services and targeting the delivery of services through routine primary and secondary mental health care touchpoints, the DWP can reach thousands of people they might otherwise miss.
- Embed routine enquiry about money worries into mental health care services – DHSC should build enquiry about money worries into established primary and secondary care pathways, including GPs and Care and Treatment Plans – with appropriate resources for signposting and referring for specialist support.
- Integrate money advice support in healthcare settings supporting people with their mental health – Recognising the links between money and mental health problems, DHSC, working together with the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS), should act to prevent and proactively resolve financial difficulties for people with mental health problems by integrating welfare rights and money advice services in mental health care settings, such as GP surgeries, IAPT services, Community Mental Health Teams and psychiatric hospitals.
Reducing suicides by tackling financial difficulties
Financial difficulties and problem debt can exacerbate mental health problems that hinder recovery, sometimes with devastating consequences. Over 100,000 people in England attempt suicide while in problem debt each year. And more than two in five UK adults living with mental health problems who fell behind on bills during the pandemic considered or attempted to take their own life – amounting to 2.5 million people.
Two fundamental changes are needed to ensure fewer people die by suicide.
- Whole system change – Financial difficulties and problem debt should be threaded through the 10-year mental health plan at all levels of intervention, from promotion, prevention, intervention, treatment and crisis support. If financial difficulties are only considered at the point of crisis or within the national suicide prevention plan, multiple early opportunities to address the devastating links will be missed.
- Disentangling the financial and economic drivers of suicide – Multiple financial and economic factors contribute to people taking their own life, from personal financial problems (such as financial difficulties, problem debt, job loss and benefit cuts) to broader economic and systemic factors (such as unemployment, recessions, deprivation, persistently low benefit rates and sanction policies). The refreshed national suicide prevention plan must avoid combining these granular factors into a single broad concept, which serves to mask both the causes of the problem and each solution. Establishing these drivers as factors in their own right allows national and local governments to implement precise and target solutions accordingly.
Improving the nation’s mental health and reducing the number of people who die by suicide is a huge endeavour that cannot be addressed by one government department alone. Instead, concerted efforts are required across government. But with rising rates of mental health problems and increased financial pressures from the cost of living crisis, coordinated and targeted efforts are required more now than ever.
Click here to read our full response to the DHSC’s call for evidence on the 10-Year Plan for Mental Health.