Polly Mackenzie, Director, Money and Mental Health

What a difference a year makes

There are many acts it’s said you can only do if you have faith in the future. Planting trees. Having children. Founding a new organisation to bring change into the world. In the past two years I’ve had the privilege to do all three. And though when I look at the world around us, I can see so many reasons to despair, they give me not just hope, but confidence in the future.

The garden I’m lucky enough to have is blooming, with five tiny apples clustering in the branches of their tree. Today is my last day at work before maternity leave; next week I hope to bring my third child, my second son, safely into the world. And this week, we published the first annual report of my other baby: Money and Mental Health, the charity we founded last year to break the devastating link between mental health problems and financial difficulties.


Our story so far

18 months ago I sat alone in a crowded library writing a strategic plan for the charity, to submit to our founder, Martin Lewis. Today, I am just one of literally thousands of people who have given their time, their ideas, and their idealism to our vision.

I work every day alongside one of the most brilliant teams of researchers and campaigners you can imagine. Together, in the last year, we’ve produced ten policy briefings on topics from gambling to late night retail, responded to six government and regulator consultations, and published seven major research reports including:

  • Money on your mind: mapping the pathways between financial difficulty and mental health problems
  • The missing link: modelling the potential benefits of incorporating debt advice into IAPT, NHS England’s largest talking therapies programme
  • Strength in numbers: an assessment of how carers support people with mental health problems in managing their money, and the challenges they face in doing so.
  • Seeing through the fog: establishing how mental health problems can affect financial capability.
  • Overstretched, overdrawn, underserved: exploring how financial difficulties affect us at work, and what employers can do to help.


An important thank you

I’m incredibly proud of our output – changing the debate and adding to the evidence. But I’m even more proud of how we’ve delivered our research and developed our policies: with the help and contributions of thousands of people with lived experience of mental health problems, and those who care for them. In particular, we host a Research Community of about 3,000 people with mental health problems who share their ideas and contribute to our work every week. It takes immense bravery to tell some of the stories they’ve shared, and I am overwhelmed by admiration for every single member of that community. We’re working for them – and the millions like them – but more importantly, we’d be nothing without them.

A tribute also needs to be paid to the industries, health services, and government officials we’ve worked with in the last year. I’ve met, or presented to, hundreds of people working in relevant sectors since I began working on this project, and I can think of only one (who shall remain nameless!) who scoffed and didn’t think there was something his organisation could or should do to help improve lives. Everyone else has shown interest and enthusiasm for what we’re trying to do, and in some cases worked day and night to deliver change within the company or service they represent. Change takes time, of course, but in the last year we’ve seen it begin – including:

  • The Prime Minister commit to ending charges for doctor’s notes needed by people with mental health problems to get better treatment from creditors
  • Barclays ready to launch cards for carers, following on from our report on how carers routinely put themselves and their loved ones at risk because of inadequate protections available in the financial services market
  • More than 100 developers get together for an FCA-sponsored Tech Sprint, to prototype products and tools to help people with mental health problems with money management


This is just the beginning

This year, we’ve been starting conversations: planting acorns for the future transformation of our financial and mental health services, to build a country where financial problems are no longer a major trigger of mental health problems, and where people can live through and recover from mental illness without dire financial consequences. I will be away, caring for my family, for the rest of the year, leaving Money and Mental Health in the unbelievably capable hands of the team – and our interim Director Simon Crine, who’ll be introducing himself in a blog here first thing on Monday. But I can’t wait to come back next year and see those acorns growing to saplings and real trees.

Change starts when people have faith in the future, and take the first steps. Whether you can put our ideas into practice in your organisation, join our research community, or simply help us spread the word – I hope you’ll join us in making a difference.


Take a look at our full Annual review